4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the category “Southeast Asia”

Eat Where We Ate (by Carmen)

While I was traveling I started to wonder if I would ever be able to find all the eateries I’ve visited if I eventually returned to a particular city or region. I mean, it seemed easy enough now since it was all relatively fresh in my memory. But in a few years? There are some places I know I will return to and others less so. Just to be on the safe side, I figured I would note down as many of the places we mentioned in the blog as I could whether or not I plan to revisit. Turns out, that was A LOT.  The culmination of this effort: The 4feet2mouths Food Map

I adore maps, old and new - in this case of Istanbul (Sources: Duke University, Rifle Paper Co)

I adore maps, old and new – in this case of Istanbul (Sources: Duke University, Rifle Paper Co)

Memory is an amazing thing (and has fascinated me even more since I read Moonwalking with Einstein). Our brains are incredibly adept at spatial memory. I was astounded how much location-specific information I could recall when I really tried. I even started testing myself with restaurants from earlier travels and found that by studying a google map I could find places without the help of google search. It is probably obvious by now that I am a complete map nerd. Seriously, cartography is absolutely beautiful!

Screenshot of 4feet2Mouths Food Map, zoomed in on Istanbul

Screenshot of 4feet2Mouths Food Map, zoomed in on Istanbul

There’s an added bonus to my map memory game – now you can eat where we ate! I am using this as a tool to make recommendations to others about our favorite restaurants and food stalls (and a few sights as well). So if anyone says, “Do you know any good places in Istanbul?” I can send the link and they can zoom in from there. I have to admit, this idea stemmed from a map my friend Andrew shared about his favorite places in New York. It was useful for me so I hope mine will be useful to you.

Datli Maya in Istanbul is one of 150 listings on the 4feet2mouths Food Map!

Datli Maya in Istanbul is one of 150 listings on the 4feet2mouths Food Map!

Food Map Link

The permanent link will be at the top of the page

So from now on the 4feet2mouths Food Map will be housed on the Eat Where We Ate page of this blog (see the link at the top). It was quite the effort and I’m proud of the result. I will update it periodically as our travels progress. In the meantime, I hope you can enjoy some of our recommendations.

The 4feet2mouths Food Map

Picture 5

Costs of Travel #5 – Real Travel for $50 Per Day, a Summary of Asia & the Entire Trip (by Nathan)

Polaroid taken of us at a party in HK

Polaroid taken of us at a party in HK

I present to you the final installment of our “Costs of Travel” series! Quick recap: the last four months of our trip were evenly split between Southeast Asia (including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos) and China.  Our final city was Hong Kong, a grand finale to our enormous adventure. We travelled for 410 days and were able to do it for $50 per day. This post will look at the last four months as well as the trip as a whole to provide some advice on how you can get started on your own world tour.

4FEET2MOUTHS Costs of Travel - Regions

(You may notice that the entire trip shows up as $61.60 a day, but this will be explained later on.  We found a way to save at least $11 per day)

Our trip as analyzed through the Costs of Travel thus far:

All this travel definitely made a dent on our pocket book.  We toured 18 countries and explored everything from jungles and mountaintops to pristine beaches and without doubt, it was worth it.  We learned some financial budgeting lessons in South America, we got back on track in the United States and we continued our love of travel into Europe and India.

4feet2mouths Travel Costs - Southeast Asia

It is funny, but Southeast Asia would only feel expensive after arriving from a place like India which is what we did. India is incredibly inexpensive; a few dollars and we were eating like kings.  I am still amazed that we were eating dosas and idli every morning for 50 cents! Where else can you travel to a country for less than $35 per day with flights and visas?  We landed in Bangkok feeling a little awkward in the modernity of a city that is so starkly different from New Delhi.   The contrasts between India and Thailand were so vivid that we constantly grappled in our first few days to readjust to Thailand.  What we quickly learned was that everything in Southeast Asia was twice the price of India, but even still everything was very affordable.

Overall, the costs in the various Southeast Asian countries were very similar and our daily budget was pretty stable at $47 per person per day.  Hostels and hotels were pretty standard at $6-$11 per day and food $7-$9.  That means we were getting all of our basic needs met for $16 per person per day on average.  We did find that every Southeast Asian country had some relatively expensive excursion or activity that we couldn’t pass up: scuba diving, Ankor Wat, Halong Bay and jungle trekking were all wonderful and essential experiences, but they bloated the “Fun” category of our budget.  We also noticed that transportation in the region, both between cities (the Get In category) and within cities (Transit) can easily be done for under $5 per day.  We bused everywhere, with many overnight buses, and I recommend that as the most accessible and comfortable method of transportation.

2012.07.24FEET2MOUTHS Costs of Travel - China & Hong Kong

When we arrived in China it somehow felt more expensive to us than SE Asia.  But when finally sitting down and looking at the numbers it was in fact that same cost – $48 per person per day.  It felt like we were constantly being charged park entrance fees, but those costs rarely compared to the “Fun” costs we had in SE Asia.  A big savings was that we were touring China during winter, which meant that many of the boat cruises and beach adventure activities we were doing in SE Asia were not possible.  It was the buses and trains between cities that were roughly twice the price in China and we typically spent $8 each per day on that transportation, whereas transit within cities was excellent at only $1.34 per day.  All in all, China was extremely affordable. The food, sights and adventure were some of our best memories.

Rainbow currencies of Hong Kong

Rainbow currencies of Hong Kong

Excellent meals at Spring Deer and Da Ping Huo

Excellent meals at Spring Deer and Da Ping Huo

Hong Kong is one of our favorite cities.  We wanted to spend some time there, but at the same time not bust our budget that we had worked so hard to tame.  Hong Kong is one of those cities that must be balanced with one of the more affordable ones.   Planning a trip like ours requires a balance of the “India’s” and the “UK’s;” longer periods of time in the cheap countries provides for a few days in the expensive ones.  After three and a half months SE Asia and China we were ready for a world-class city.   Everything in Hong Kong is about twice the price of China and lodging is quadruple.  We did some pre-planning and found a few friends to host us on Couchsurfing.  It is possible to eat in Hong Kong for under $10 per day, but Hong Kong has one of the most eclectic restaurant scenes in the world so it is worth it to splurge a little.  And as many of you know, food was a quintessential reason for our travel adventures.  Even with succulent visits to Spring Deer and Da Ping Huo we were still able to reach our budget goals.

4FEET2MOUTHS Travel Costs - Every Country

South America was an eye-opener for us; $96 per person per day was not sustainable for a year of travel.  We re-assessed, adjusted and planned a seven month around-the-world trip (Europe to Asia) that successfully only cost $50.5 per day.  We learned that South America is inherently expensive because flights are costly, reciprocity visa fees are prevalent and food and lodging is just not that cheap.  Our revised plan did in fact find a balance of activities, sights and awesome food for an affordable cost.  One reality that we have not addressed was that investing our travel money actually funded major portions of our trip.

4FEET2MOUTHS Costs of Travel - Hypothetical Investments

One of the main advice points of Trip Tip #4 was to in invest your savings before embarking on your around-the-world trip.  I have created a little scenario to prove my point. Suppose I set aside $25,000 each for Carmen and me about one year before we embarked on our trip.  This money would be spent in increments during the trip so would have to be accessible. In this scheme we invested in one of the big Dow companies or in the S&P 500 (an index of the top 500 US companies) that is likely to slowly grow, but not sink.  I ran a scenario where $5,000 was withdrawn at the start of the trip and every three months during the trip.  I chose a selection of companies that everyone has heard of: Disney, Verizon, Exxon Mobile and CocaCola.  If you have a resistance to buying stock, then you are missing out on all the companies that are profiting off of you.  Truth: you are not off the grid. I like to think that I am taking advantage of globalization and the world reach of corporate America by allowing these companies to fund my travel of the globe.  I take my portion of their profits and reinvest it in the local communities I visit by buying food at a street cart or staying in a family-owned hotel.  

My investment scenario shows some amazing findings: two years after deciding to travel and investing the money resulted in thousands of dollars in free money.  Suppose in our investing scenario we did not invest in Disney, but we did earn $4,500 over the course of two years; over 410 days of travel we would have saved $11 per day! Carmen and I did not invest in any of these companies, and I must remind you that there is risks involved in investing, so please research every company thoroughly before you float your life savings on stocks.

Costs of Travel - Everything

So we did it!  Even though we were spending $96 a day in South America, we balanced our trip with some more inexpensive places like the Camino de Santiago, India and SE Asia.  We invested our travel money along the way and pulled it out as we needed it.  Therefore, the $61.60 a day we spent minus the $11 in investment earnings brought us to our goal.  The end result, 410 days, 4 continents, 18 countries at $50.6 per day. 

Check out all of our nerdy fun pie charts here:

The Best of 410 Days of Travel (by Nathan)

Northside of Uçhisar castle in Cappadocia

Northside of Uçhisar castle in Cappadocia

Life without travel, to us, is not life.  In February of 2012 we set out on an adventure beyond what anyone could fathom.  Our destinations would be magnificent and our itinerary complex.  We gave up most of our possessions and set out to explore the world.  I remember our last night in Berkeley, we sat on the floor of our empty apartment eating a fabulous cheeseboard pizza washed down with rosé (from a winery aptly named L’aventure, The Adventure).  Both of us were nervous about what might happen over the next year.  We wanted needed to travel. There is only so much ground that can be covered on two week vacations, so we postponed our careers in search of historical, cultural and culinary education.  We met wonderful people and saw countless jaw-dropping sights.   In total we explored over 100 villages, towns and big cities in eighteen countries on four continents through 410 days of travel.  It was a wild ride of buses, rickshaws, trains and walking on our own two feet.  The best part is that I would not change any bit of it.  Every experience has its place and memory that I love.

Last meal in our Berkeley apartment: Cheeseboard pizza & L’Aventure Rose (perfect)

Last meal in our Berkeley apartment: Cheeseboard pizza & L’Aventure Rose (perfect)

I think the most impressive achievement of traveling is the accumulation of memories.  Every day traveling creates a new experience, a beautiful sight, a peculiar food or an awkward cultural exchange.  Each one of these unique events is stored within my brain like a painting of a vibrant and textured year.  The events shine with such color and flavor that Carmen and I can quiz each other and remember what we ate, saw and did exactly on any day of the last year.  What were you doing last May 7, 2012?  We woke up at sunrise and walked across the Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, then bused to Puno, Peru and had Chinese food while watching a Bruce Lee soap opera with a funny theme song chorus.  I look back at my years working and there are a few standout events, work milestones, or an exceptionally fun weekend or a fabulous meal we created with friends.  But for the most part, memories just are not stored vividly because they get lost in the routine of the day to day while traveling provides so many novel experiences.

Nathan taking a rest during a hike

Nathan taking a rest during a hike

Carmen and another day of travel

Carmen and another day of travel

The memories of our trip hit me with amazing detail.  We are constantly asked what our favorite part of the trip was.  It is virtually impossible to compile millions of wonderful memories and synthesize them in a single answer.  We hiked mountains, canyons and through forests and ate dosas, ceviche and hot pot.  And we loved every bit of all of it.  I have tried to go through some of our favorite activities, tastes and sights and tried to compile a brief list of some of the “bests” of fourteen months of travel. 

Rio de Janiero - Ipanema Sunrise

Rio de Janiero – Ipanema Sunrise

Best Big Cities: London, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Chengdu

Best Big Cities: London, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Chengdu

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Big Cities

Carmen and I love big cities.  We love the life that one can feel in a city.  The people thrive with high-rises, public transit, beautiful museums, beaches and sights.  The food tingles with flavors so intense that the tongue and entire body becomes addicted.  And although there may be culture-shock these cities are welcoming and encouraging to be a tourist and maybe an inhabitant.  I loved Rio de Janiero from our week traveling there in March 2012.  The city is beautiful and the music passionate.  I can’t wait to go back.  London and Hong Kong are of course one of our most favorite cities in the world.  Chengdu feels a bit more scattered in its design, but remains one of my favorites for the food alone.  Istanbul is a gem in the world, a perfect crossing point for Asia and Europe with all the delicacies and beauty that make it uniquely Turkish.

Shaxi, our favorite small town

Shaxi, our favorite small town

The small towns often get missed in lists like these.  We visited a perfect little village named Shaxi in between Dali and Lijiang.  It was quaint and picturesque, and a wonderful variation from the Chinese tourist cities that are so common.  Unfortunately it is changing and I expect that it will not be the same when I return.  We visited countless small towns during our Camino de Santiago trek, each dainty or dusty, but fun to explore in search of a café cortado.

Tartine bread pudding with strawberries

Tartine bread pudding with strawberries

Best Sweets: baklava, sweet soup. Mango sticky rice & alfajores

Best Sweets: baklava, sweet soup. Mango sticky rice & alfajores

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Sweets

Amazingly enough we did discover coffee during our travels abroad.  Both Carmen and I appreciated coffee, but refused to be addicted so we drank it very rarely.  Walking across Spain changed that, now we just have to limit intake.  There are few better things to have a coffee with than bread pudding.  Tartine in San Francisco makes my absolute favorite dessert of the year.  We always used to eat here, but after having it again with strawberries, I cannot help but put it at the top of the list.  Other favorites include Honeymoon Desserts’ sweet soup and alfajores.   Mango sticky rice is so simple and perfect that I wish I could eat it every day.  In Turkey we tried to eat baklava every day, which were all phenomenal.  One place, Karaköy Güllüoğlu, created nut and phillo pillows of gold.  The fact is that there are just too many excellent places to eat while traveling.

Gong Bao Ji (Chicken)

Gong Bao Ji (Chicken)

Best Foods: ceviche, rajas y queso, boat noodles & pho

Best Foods: ceviche, rajas y queso, boat noodles & pho

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Food

I still stand my original statement on Chengdu that the gong bao chicken we ate on Renmin Zhonglu remains one of my favorite meals.  I am so happy that we ate there twice!  Another favorite is La Super Rica; you can order blindly here and you will be very happy.  Boat noodles and pho are charactieristic of the flavors of Thailand and Vietnam.  In general, the everyday food in South America is rather mediocre.  Culinary enthusiasts should rightly stay in Asia.  Although we loved the pizzas of Buenos Aires, my real favorite of South America was the ceviche that we consumed in large amounts in Lima Peru.  Survival during travel is not on food alone, it is the sights that often distinguish the destinations.

Ephesus library

Ephesus library

Best Ruins: Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Caryatids on the Acropolis, Vittana Temple & carved church in Cappadocia

Best Ruins: Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Caryatids on the Acropolis, Vittana Temple & carved church in Cappadocia

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Ruins

In school I never really liked history.  It seemed like such a mish-mash of random wars and crap that never mattered.  Then I started traveling and developed a love of understanding cultures and people and the history leading to their current lives.  I find that I can spend all day bouncing around a set of ruins, crawling around a cave or reading countless interpretive signs.  Seeing a place brings the history to life and ingrains a sense of reality that these events actually happened.  Some of my favorite places were the Inca Trail, Angkor and Athens; there are so many ruins that can be enjoyed and each building, wall and path defines a little bit of history that is easier to understand.  India’s civilization is thousands of years old and the variety of ruins and temples demonstrates a wealth of history.  One of our favorite cities was Hampi, the ruins were spread out, but beautiful and easy to explore.  Cappadocia was honestly unbelievable: underground cities and fairy chimney houses really do exist.

Hagia Sofia, most impressive building

Hagia Sofia, most impressive building

We were doubly awestruck when visiting the Hagia Sofia.  It is old enough to be in ruins, built 500ad, but still remarkably towers above and beyond what many modern engineers are designing.  I was deeply moved and inspired by this magnificent building and I look forward to seeing it and Istanbul again.  Beyond the buildings and the history it was the landscapes that intrigued us and kept us walking and walking and walking.

Grand Canyon Sunset from Cape Final

Grand Canyon Sunset from Cape Final

Best Landscapes: Salkantay, Camino de Santiago, Salar de Uyuni & Cappadocia

Best Landscapes: Salkantay, Camino de Santiago, Salar de Uyuni & Cappadocia

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Landscapes

The landscapes of the world vary drastically.  The contrasts between mountains, canyons and forests are immense, but one thing is for certain: the human heart is sure to skip a beat at certain places on this planet.  We sought out many of these spectacular sights, and some of my favorites include: camping beneath Salkantay mountain on the Inca Trail, The deserts, rocks and salt flats leading up to the Salar de Uyuni and Cappadocia rock formations and hot air balloons.  Grand Canyon, despite its ubiquity as being a beautiful destination, remains one of my favorite places.  We trekked for eight days and loved all the nuances, textures and colors that transition throughout the day.  We experienced so many beautiful things: Tiger Leaping Gorge and Zhangjiajie come to mind in China or Cafayate and Iguazu in Argentina; each is its own special and vibrant memory.

Walking the Camino de Santiago towards Sahagún

Walking the Camino de Santiago towards Sahagún

I value each experience of our trip uniquely, but one was critical to my well-being and my development as a human- walking the Camino de Santiago.  The steadiness of walking, the meditation involved with each step and the time to think is phenomenal.  I finished the Camino confident that I could achieve anything, but humbled that I finished it with someone I love, Carmen.  Walking the Camino de Santiago is special and life-changing for everyone in their own way.  I feel that I could walk it again tomorrow and it would still bring value and pleasure to my travels.

Nathan & Carmen at Condoritos Park

Nathan & Carmen at Condoritos Park

We often get concerns about our travels.  People care to know about muggings, stolen property and the life and death situations that might have caused us head home.  Carmen and I were very fortunate to not have any serious turmoil happen to us while traveling.  Our worst evening was spent shivering on the side of the road next to the Condoritos Park.  We did hear of some friends who had cameras stolen from buses in Tupiza, or friends of friends who were pick-pocketed in Rio, but none of these things happened to us.  We did accidentally leave a nice steel canteen in Sao Paulo and another Nalgene on a minibus in Zhongdian, but that is it.  Carmen and I are very meticulous to carry very little, we pack light and we walk with our hands free and we secure our money when we get it.  We were lucky, but I feel that the people of the world are generally nice and helpful.  People in Vietnam were extremely welcoming and kind to us throughout our trip and we experienced zero hard feelings for being American. In fact, everyone was welcoming; we, for the most part, only encountered nice and thoughtful people.  (That crazy girl in Tiger Leaping Gorge kung fu kicks into my memory.)  Our trip was a great success and I feel confident that we could travel anywhere and have similar experiences and treatment.

Nathan getting a mud cleanse

Nathan getting a mud cleanse

Just as fast as the date came for us to embark, it was time to settle down.  We traveled hard and fast.  We were diligent to explore as many parts of the world as we could.  Language and food was no barrier, and we were entertained by the beautiful sights that both nature and humans have created.  The challenge with any travel is that the world never feels smaller.  The world feels more accessible, but our bucket lits of places to go and things to see has only grown larger than when we left.  The question we have to figure out now, is what country we will travel to next?

Carmen sandbar silhouette in Ilha do Mel

Carmen sandbar silhouette in Ilha do Mel

Many of you have been our readers throughout this journey and I thank you for your support.  For those who have just started following us: there is a wealth of excellent photos and information in our past posts.  Future posts will continue to entertain on the travel and food theme that we all love.

Past, Present and Future (by Carmen)

PAST
Looking back on our trip is an adventure unto itself as it provides me a rapidfire onslaught of memories and emotions.
 We had such a variety of experiences this past 14 months, how do I begin to summarize it all?  Fortunately, we have done a couple summary posts already.  Therefore, I’m going to pick up where we left off.  Here is a selection of favorite memories from the last part of our trip, Cambodia through to Hong Kong:

Clockwise from left: cooking amok, hanging out with Dalat locals, banh mi

Clockwise from left: cooking amok, hanging out with Dalat locals, banh mi

  • Squeezing fresh coconuts for milk and adding it to my fish curry in ultra laid back Battambang
  • That first bite of banh mi in Saigon – crispy, crunchy, sour, sweet, creamy, savory goodness
  • Being invited by locals for watermelon and rice liquor next to Pongour Waterfall near Dalat
Clockwise from left: Halong Bay, Thai stewed pork, mushroom bun, Laotian jungle

Clockwise from left: Halong Bay, Thai stewed pork, mushroom bun, Laotian jungle

  • Chilling on the deck of our boat with Julia and Jonathan in Halong Bay
  • Observing a simpler way of life in the jungle villages of Luang Namtha
  • Being served delicious stewed pork by a street vendor in a cowboy hat in Chiang Mai
  • Sampling Yunnan’s famous mushrooms in steamed bun form at the early morning market in Kunming
Clockwise from left: monastary in Zhongdian, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, stinky tofu, rice terraces

Clockwise from left: monastary in Zhongdian, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, stinky tofu, rice terraces

  • Getting up close and personal with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the intense rapids at its base within Tiger Leaping Gorge
  • Devouring dumplings then getting a taste of Tibetan spirituality at Ganden Sumtseling Gompa monastery in Zhongdian
  • Trying to get my head around the incredible rice terraces of Yuanyang while making new friends Michael and Albert
  • Eating the infamous black stinky tofu of Changsha and actually enjoying it
Clockwise from left: hot pot, hong kong high rises, tied tofu skins in Chengdu, tea house in Zigong in Sichuan province

Clockwise from left: hot pot, hong kong high rises, tied tofu skins in Chengdu, tea house in Zigong in Sichuan province

  • Dipping fresh tofu in a bubbling red hot pot while sitting in a converted bomb shelter in Chongqing
  • Hanging out in the convivial tea houses of Sichuan
  • Finding my food mecca in Chengdu – mapo tofu, gong bao chicken, twice cooked pork, fish fragrant eggplant how I miss you so
  • Absorbing the vivacious energy of Hong Kong in its streets, dim sum halls, hidden bars and Michelin starred hole in the walls
"This food will change your lifestyle" from a 2009 trip to Malaysia

“This food will change your lifestyle” from a 2009 trip to Malaysia

Many of my memories have to do with food because I don’t eat to live, I live to eat. Throughout our travels I was struck by how much difference it made to eat a cuisine in the place it had originated. And it’s not just because things taste fresher. It is a about the environment and the people too. Take dosa for example.  I had eaten dosa, the Indian roll stuffed with potatoes and veggies and served with daal and chutney dipping sauces, in Berkeley.  But it wasn’t until I was in India – eating my dosa at breakfast on a metal plate with a metal cup of chai tea, breathing in the thick humid air, watching other groups chatting happily in their sing song accent – that I really got it.  Dosa is filling but not heavy.  Basically, it is a damn good way to start the day.  In each country, I learned more about foods that I thought I had known with the result being that I now have a greater appreciation for these cuisines.

Of course, travel is about more than food.  Travel changes you but not necessarily in a dramatic way.  I had experiences that caused me to do some thinking, yes, but no light bulb epiphanies that changed my life. When confronted with so many new or unique experiences each day it’s hard to gauge change within yourself. Perhaps a better way to put it is a better sense of self.  Because the saying is true – “wherever you go, there you are.”

Sleeper bus to Yuanyang

Sleeper bus to Yuanyang

And we went a lot of places.  Over the past 14 months I have ridden high speed trains, a 27 hour sleeper bus, overnight ferries, small vans overburdened with 22 people, and what I like to call the rickshaw roller coaster. Powered by my own two feet I weaved through traffic packed streets on a bicycle and walked 500 mile across Spain.  My career is in transportation and I can’t help but feel that these experiences brought greater insight to my work.

Women skillfully carrying their goods

Women skillfully carrying their goods in Hubli, India

To remember all these places, experiences and transport modes gives me an immense sense of gratitude.  I know how fortunate I am for the health and resources to do this trip.  As a woman, I’m also grateful for the fact that I was born in the West.  Sexism is alive and well in the USA but I’m happy we got past the women as second class citizens thing.  Not so in many other parts of the world.  It was annoying to see groups of men and women working in China because often the men were sitting around while the women were shoveling or raking or doing whatever job had to be done.  Of course in Turkey there is gender separation as a result of religious norms, though as a tourist I personally did not feel any discrimination. The country we visited where I felt it most was India.  The culture is positively obsessed with gender and the idea that men absolutely can’t control themselves in the presence of a woman.  Women must cover, must hide away, must have their own train car in order to not be groped.  It wasn’t until I arrived in Thailand just after India that I realized how oppressing it all was.  I could finally wear a tank top to deal with the heat and nobody looked twice!  There were more women walking the sidewalks, women riding scooters, women sitting next to the men they didn’t know on transit (gasp!) and life went on.  I do hope that India finds a better balance of equality in the years that come.

This tower of dolma was one of the few things we got to "cook" during our travels

This tower of dolma was one of the few things we got to “cook” during our travels

PRESENT
Given my tales of culture shock and exhausting bus rides, it’s no wonder people often ask if I’m tired of travel. I think I surprise them when I say not really. If someone offered me a ticket to Italy leaving tomorrow, I wouldn’t hesitate to pack my bags.

That said, I am excited to resume some of my hobbies that I haven’t been able to do because of my travels. Cooking and having my own kitchen is a big one. I’m looking forward to have those lazy Sundays when I get to dedicate my day to making a delicious bolognaise. Also, learning about some many cultural histories has me thinking about my own familial one. I’ve always wanted to make a family tree and now I’m more inspired than ever.

Therefore, we are now in the process of settling down. At least for a short while. The big question is where. Part of the impetus of this trip was an was a desire to move from the San Francisco area, where we had spent nearly 10 years. We are looking for a new place to call home. Our main desire is a big city that supports our lifestyle of exploring by foot and eating good food. Will it be New York? London? Hong Kong? I wish I knew! But the main determinant will be where we can land jobs.

In the immediate future, there is our wedding to plan which is both exciting and anxiety-inducing. Meanwhile, we will be posting on some of our local travels to see friends and family as well as advice on how to plan your own trip.

Clockwise from left: the Camino, Hong Kong clay pot restaurant, baklava in Turkey, Santorini, Chengdu delicacies, sunset on the beach in Koh Tao, spring rolls in Saigon

Clockwise from left: the Camino, Hong Kong clay pot restaurant, baklava in Turkey, Santorini, Chengdu delicacies, sunset on the beach in Koh Tao, spring rolls in Saigon

FUTURE
But just because we are staying in one place doesn’t mean I can’t already plan my future travel adventures. Taking a year off just opens your eyes to more places to visit and explore.

My dad asked me where would I return of all the international places I’d been this year, which is much better than asking what my favorite place is (impossible to answer!).  For some places, one visit is enough.  But it’s the ones that call you back that indicate that there’s something special there. Here is a list of places I would return (* means I visited pre-blog):

  • The Camino
  • Greek islands
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Southern Vietnam
  • Thailand beaches
  • Sichuan
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan*
  • Anywhere in Europe*
I want to have a wall map in my apartment (photo credit: Urban Outfitters)

I will definitely have a wall map in my apartment! (photo credit: Urban Outfitters)

And then of course there are the places you hear about and see tantalizing pictures of.  A list of countries I have never been but want to explore:

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Korea
  • Western China
  • Nepal
  • The “stans” in Central Asia
  • Russia
  • Croatia
  • Lebanon
  • Jordan
  • Egypt
  • Morocco
  • Botswana
  • Northern Brazil
  • Southern Argentina

It’s time for us to put down some roots and have a bit more routine in our life. But wherever we end up one thing is for sure. A map will be posted on the wall. Pins will be pushed in to the countries we’ve been to, the ones we need to go back to, and the ones we’ve yet to explore. It will serve as a reminder of fortunate we are to have seen all that have as well as an indicator that the next adventure just around the corner.

But this is not the end!  Stay tuned for Nathan’s thoughts on the trip coming up next.

One Night in Bangkok (by Nathan)

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can’t be too careful with your company
I can feel the Devil walking next to me

Bangkok, Oriental setting
And the city don’t know what the city is getting
The creme de la creme of the chess world
In a show with everything but Yul Brynner

Time flies, doesn’t seem a minute
Since the Tirolean Spa had the chess boys in it
All change, don’t you know that when you
Play at this level, there’s no ordinary venue

One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster
The bars are temples but the pearls ain’t free
You’ll find a God in every golden cloister
And if you’re lucky then the God’s a she
I can feel an angel sliding up to me

by Murray Head

Bowls and bowls of boat noodles

Bowls and bowls of boat noodles

Yes, almost by circumstance I decided to relive one of my favorite 80’s songs, Murray Heads’s “One Night in Bangkok”. Our chess match involved all the the intricacies and intelligence of maneuvering around the world and the reward was a day to enjoy Thai food. Of all places to have a one-day layover, Bangkok is a delicious place to be stuck with twenty-four hours to burn. The epicenter of Thai food is guaranteed to tantalize with vibrant flavors and leave the mouth panting for more while the stomach pleads for it all to stop. Thus, as expected, we spent our last day in Thailand eating, walking and eating a bit more and fulfilling everything that 4feet2mouths can be.

Roadside golden Buddha

Roadside golden Buddha

The challenge of securing a Chinese visa is that proof-of-entrance and exit is required. Thus, six months ago we took a stab-in-the-dark and booked a flight to Kunming from Bangkok. In hindsight it would have been slightly easier and cheaper to just bus over from Northern Laos, but we would have had to fake a flight at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco. Thus When we finally returned to Thailand, it felt very natural, and it was welcoming and exciting to be in a place that we had explored and enjoyed six weeks ago. Within 10 minutes of our hotel we were graced by a hundred Buddhas that were humbly meditating the streets and awaiting to be purchased and set into future Thai temples.

Green curry and crab soufflé at Krua Apsorn

Green curry and crab soufflé at Krua Apsorn

The deliciously simple miang khanna at Krua Apsorn

The deliciously simple miang khanna at Krua Apsorn

There was really one destination that we had in mind, Thanon Dinson. This two block street is all that you need to know for excellent Thai food. There is everything from noodles, barbecue, soups and rice dishes; and everything is excellent. Our first place was Krua Apsorn. this mid-range restaurant serves mostly central Thai cuisine of very high quality. We ordered a fish ball and baby eggplant green curry and crab soufflé. The star of the restaurant was the extremely simple and fresh appetizer called miang khanna. A platter arrived with lime wedges, ginger, chopped onion, peanuts, pork cracklings, dried shrimp, betel leaves and a tamarind sauce. We rolled up some of everything and took a bite that exploded with textures and flavors. We will definitely be recreating this one at home!

Boat noodle perfection

Boat noodle perfection

Literally across the street and to the right a little bit is a delicious spot for boat noodles. This is the birth place of our “dirty noodles” concept that the best soup shops are fast, cheap, and deserve with people. They pulled a couple bowls off the stack and added the noodle thickness of our choice. It was up to us to make it special with some added chili, vinegar and a dash of sugar.

Tranquil canal on Dipsom Road

Tranquil canal on Dipsom Road

We crossed the street again I and enjoyed the serene canal. It was a really warm, but peaceful day. We could not expect anything better on our last day in Thailand.

Colorful Thai traffic jam

Colorful Thai traffic jam

Riding the canal boat

Riding the canal boat

The Klong San Sap canal boat public transit in Bangkok is wonderful. There is an elevated rail and plently of colorful taxies, but the canal system is the more fun way to get around. We did not get to experience this on our first trip. But this time we conveniently found ourselves making trips from Old town to near the MBK mall. We loaded onto the thirty person boat and it roared down the twenty foot wide canal. At first I wondered why the ticket operator was wearing a helmet, then suddenly the whole roof of the boat collapsed swiftly to clear the bridge ahead. They had actually designed the boat so that the roof was hinged to drop the height three feet and at these brief moments the driver maneuvered the boat peering through the three inches of visible windshield. We gripped our seat for the first few times, but ultimately the experience proved enjoyable and entertaining.

The must-visit Thanon Mahannop fish soup shop.

The must-visit Thanon Mahannop fish soup shop.

Delectable Thai fish soup

Delectable Thai fish soup

Can you imagine the anxiety of eating your last Thai meal? What if you knew you could not have Thai food for eight weeks?  Funny, yes, but we took this very serious. Our final morning in Bangkok was spent roaming the streets for something that might sustain our memory of Thai cuisine.  We scoured the streets to find something that would be sour, spicy, sweet, salty and savory. Our first thought was the fabulous pad thai at Thip Sanai on 313 Thanon Mahachai, but it was closed! Thus, we drifted to our trusty Thanon Dinso. What we discovered was one of the best meals of all Thailand. We peered up a side street called Thanon Mahannop, just west of Thanon Dinso. We found a small crowd of people outside a tiny restaurant on the south side of the street. We snagged a table and pointed for two bowls of what everyone else was having…some sort of stew. The bowls arrived with a red broth packed with lemongrass and chunks of fish. This was the most intensely flavored wonderful dish. Any discussion of it and I watch Carmen lick her lips remembering the flavors. The stew was spicy, the fish tender and the sour lemongrass potent. This was an awesome find for our last Thai meal.

And just as quick as One Night in Bangkok came into existence, our layover was finished. Backpacks were cinched tight and thrown over our shoulders once more.  China, our final frontier, loomed just to the north.

Wat Hopping in Chiang Mai (by Carmen)

Chiang Mai, the square city

Chiang Mai, the square city (photo credit: artandcultureasia.com)

The city of Chiang Mai was born on Thursday the 8th day of waxing moon, 1296AD, at 4:00am, in the year of the monkey. This we learned at the city’s history museum, which explained that Chiang Mai, like people, has certain personality traits as well periods of good and bad health. I liked this personification of cities and I knew Chiang Mai and I would get along just fine. First of all, I liked its shape. Not many cities have such a strong square moat, with remainders of its crumbling city wall still presiding over residents.

Khao Kha Mu

Khao Kha Mu

And, of course, there was the delicious food. Fortunately for us, Julia and Jonathan had been in Chiang Mai just before we got there and provided some noteworthy recommendations. Two were just north of the city gate, at the Chang Puek market. Recognizable by their cowboy hats, the pork choppers at the khao kha mu (stewed pork over rice) stall are working non-stop to fill the mountain of orders. We joined the crowds, got our plate and doused it with a sweet spicy chili sauce on the table. The slightly sweet pork mingled perfectly with the tangy sauce.

Pad thai stall

Pad thai stall

Pad thai close up

Pad thai close up

At the same market, look for the lone man towards the end pumping out pad thai. It was perfect. His pad Thai uses good tamarind paste so is more sour than the ones I’ve eaten in the States. The “original” mix he offered involved tofu, eggs, and dried shrimp. Many thanks to Mark at the Travelfish Thailand blog for pointing out this market!

Wat Phan Tao

Wat Phan Tao

Wat Monthian

Wat Monthian

We were not in Chiang Mai for food alone. As the capital of the Lanna kingdom for centuries, Chiang Mai was also a spiritual center leaving a legacy of wats. Every street seems to have two or three. Some are more famous than others, such as the dark teak wood Wat Phan Tao. But all of them have a beauty to them. We really enjoyed Wat Monthian, on the northern border of the old town.

Buddha presiding over Wat Chedi Luang

Buddha presiding over Wat Chedi Luang

Flags inside Wat Chedi Luang

Flags inside Wat Chedi Luang

The namesake chedi

The namesake chedi

Another one of the well known wats is Chedi Luang. It’s large golden Buddha had a string attached to his finger that wound its way around the temple interior. From the string, people hung flags with images from the Chinese zodiac. It was a peaceful place to kneel below the flags, on the thick carpet, and quietly observing people coming into pray. Afterwards, we went to the back of the wat to see the oldest chedi (sacred site usually in a mound or pyramid shape) in Chiang Mai.

Buns!

Buns!

The next day was an important one. It was Nathan’s turn to celebrate his birthday! So what does one do in Chiang Mai to celebrate? Take a bike ride to a nearby wat of course. But wait! On the way we spied a shop selling a variety of colorful steamed buns. I’m used to these being filled by Chinese style pork or red bean paste, but these were different. There was everything from taro to spinach and cheese filled buns. We opted for pandanus and Thai pork buns. They were both good but the latter was revelatory! The lemongrass in the filling was so good and I was soon dreaming up ways to market these fusion bun treats.

White chedis at Wat Suan Dok

White chedis at Wat Suan Dok

Close up chedi

Close up chedi

We did eventually make it to the Wat Suan Dok. It had a number of white chedis for some fun photos.

Huen Phen

Huen Phen

To add a bit of surprise to Nathan’s birthday I researched a place for a good but laid back lunch. Huen Phen fit the bill and offered some great eats in casual surroundings. My favorite was the amazing Thai sausage. I had read about it online and I think it lived up to the hype. It was super tender and well spiced. Another great dish was the khao soi, a curry based soup complimented with pickled veggies to sprinkle in. We even came back the next day, when the little khanom jeen nam ngiaw place we had looked up ended up being closed. Huen Phen’s version lifted our spirits with its rich pork broth, which Nathan likened to Mexican posole.

After our large birthday lunch, we biked our way over to a Thai massage parlor. They are everywhere and hard to resist! Our muscles got twisted and stretched into loose submission. I looked over to see Nathan’s brutish looking masseuse pulling his arms back with all her might while Nathan winced. As we were getting dressed we realized that our masseuses were former prisoners that had participated in a job training program. That explains a few things…

Happy birthday Nathan!

Happy birthday Nathan!

And then there was cake. Not far from our hostel was the Fern Forest Cafe. It turns out the Thai love their cakes so we had plenty to choose from. We opted for a coconut cake with fresh coconut strips lying on top and a brownie with ice cream.

Mango sticky rice

Mango sticky rice

Night market lanterns

Night market lanterns

But when it’s your birthday, you can eat all the dessert you want. So that night we bought a final mango sticky rice at the Saturday market. Chiang Mai is particularly known for it’s Sunday market, so I was under the impression that the Saturday one would be rather small. I was completely wrong. It took us two hours to walk through the crowds while checking out the merchandise! Amazingly, there weren’t many vendors selling the same thing.

Dumplings at Sompetch

Dumplings at Sompetch

The following morning Nathan went on a nice healthy run while I slept in (this is usually the way it goes). On his way back he noticed people fighting for tables at a nearby restaurant. That was all it took for us to make it our choice for breakfast. And it was a good one! We enjoyed a variety of savory and delicious dumplings as well as some congee.

Temple roof outline at dusk

Temple roof outline at dusk

Our last day was filled with visiting the city museum and then the mother of Chiang Mai’s markets – the Sunday Walking Street. We were prepared for this one because of our experience at the Saturday market. As expected it was huge and glorious with shoppers shuffling en masse down the main drag of the old town. After perusing the goods and soaking in the vibrant atmosphere it was time for us to catch a bus. Goodbye Chiang Mai, it was wonderful to meet you!

Tribal Villages and Foraged Food of the Nam Ha Jungle (by Nathan)

Riverside canoe at Sopsine village

Riverside canoe at Sopsine village

Real Laos is in the jungle, deep within the banana trees and bamboo forests. Eighty percent of the population of Laos lives in rural communities. Many people live in tiny sleepy valley towns, but some communities are tucked deep into the mountains. Tiny muddy trails meander through the forests connecting the stilt villages of the mountain. We wanted to visit this more rugged Laos, we wanted to learn more about the bountiful food source of the jungle and learn about traditional Laos people. I was getting a little restless and a hike in the mountains was just what I needed. So we packed bare essential packs and loaded into a tuk tuk to bring us to the base of the Nam Ha national protected area.

Sweet jelly and bean soup

Sweet jelly and bean soup

Tiny colorful river fish

Tiny colorful river fish

Our first stop was the local market in the city of Luang Namtha. Carmen and I had visited this market a day earlier so we went for our favorites. Some sweet soup with a mix of jellies, beans and sweet milk was first on the menu. On the other side of the market there were these tiny fish that shined with iridescent greens and blues as we passed as well as the usual chopping blocks stacked with meat, blankets mounded with vegetables and a few caged rodents, chicken and ducks for sale at the perimeter. I had been eyeing some local lao lao, a rice liquor similar to what we had in Vietnam.  But this moonshine was more raw and burning, a toxically good late night sipper. It sold in re-used plastic water bottles that often have caps or plastic wrap and a rubber band. I bought one thinking it would be fun to share with the guide and other people in our trekking group.

Carmen being taxied across the river

Carmen being taxied across the river

Dense banana leaves provided constant shade

Dense banana leaves provided constant shade

Interwoven bamboo forests

Interwoven bamboo forests

Our hiking began when the tuk tuk stopped at a tiny hut alongside a dirt road. We wobbled onto a tiny canoe to the other side of the river, our trail head. Our guide, Singh, was immediately resourceful in hacking away at the bamboo to create us all walking poles. We stopped to dig up some fresh galangal and to look at the funny local potato. There was almost no visible sunlight as the banana trees and bamboo forests were extremely thick filtering everything in bright greens. The hike was steep and damp. We clambered up the slippery hillside along tiny foot holes dug into the trail. It was wonderful to be walking again, Carmen quickly fell into Camino-like meditations and I enjoyed powering up the hillside.

Bamboo water bottle

Bamboo water bottle

Lunch on banana leaves below a rattan hut

Lunch on banana leaves below a rattan hut

The pace was slow and steady with many breaks. We would stop to discuss local plant life, or try on banana leaf hats, sip fresh bamboo water or test our skills on a crafted bamboo flute. The trail leveled and we pulled off our packs at a rattan hut in the forest. With some banana leaves as our table we consumed our first lunch in the jungle. The food was bought from the market that morning and consisted of a cold pork laab salad with mint and chilies  There was mashed rattan and banana flower salad and a heaping mound of the Laos staple, sticky rice. Re-fueled, we continued through the thicket back to the river Nam Thong.

Animals sharing a feed bowl

Animals sharing a feed bowl

Khmmu food storage at Sopsine

Khmmu food storage at Sopsine

Our first night in the jungle was a home stay with the Khmmu people in Sopsine. There was a dirt road connecting the village from a few years ago, but only a few traveled to town each day. The people mostly survive on subsistence foraging and farming. The whole village was active with fifty or so playing children and hundreds of dogs, pigs, chickens and ducks. At feed time, one of the teenage boys pours some grainy slop in a tire and all his animals attack it with ferocity. It was fun watching piglets of just a few pounds try to fill themselves along roosters and comparably sized puppies. The buildings were fascinating to me of course.  Everyone built their one-story, one bedroom homes on stilts. The kitchens were outside and elevated as well. There was one water faucet in town that was active with hundreds of people that evening. Everyone bathed (fully clothed) at the faucet or the river, and the townspeople were just as intrigued to watch and observe us at we were at them.

Carmen jungle creek crossing

Carmen jungle creek crossing

It was a sad decision for Carmen and I to get rid of our hiking boots after the Camino when we knew that we would be doing more trekking. But it was more important to save weight on our backs than protect our feet. Carmen was cursing that decision after our first day of trekking. The path was slippery and all of us tripped at some point of the hike. Carmen took the trophy.  She typically is more careful and precise in her walking than me, so when she falls the yell and crash is heard throughout the forest. I turned back to see Carmen arms spread out from her sides, mud caked onto her hips and elbows and her right leg twisted behind her. We get her up, we rub some tiger balm onto her sprained ankle and knee and we hobbled down the hillside. In the village that night we were impressed to learn the genuine concern and sympathy that the local women had for Carmen. One insisted that she create a local medicine to apply to Carmen’s ankle; looking at the ingredients of ginger and salt, Carmen decides to proceed. The woman’s face is thick-skinned and weathered, the room is dimly lit by candles, she bends over to more closely examine Carmen’s foot. She looks at it with deep intensity, so close her nose is almost touching the skin, then “wchieu!” The woman begins spitting all over Carmen’s foot. Apparently the proper procedure to make the paste was in the mouth. The she rubs the foot vigorously with her hands and begins blowing on it. Carmen puts her sock on and we look at each other a little confused and desperately trying to restrain ourselves from the unpredictable laughter.

Lao Hai tasting

Lao Hai tasting

That night we also had a healing elixir that we could all enjoy. Our guide Singh learned my interest to try any local concoction of fermented liquor and was excited to share a real Lao specialty. Lao hai is made from rice and husks sealed with yeast and water in a clay jar. It ferments for several weeks, the the two foot clay pot is muscled to some party location. The earth seal is broken and long bamboo straws are inserted into the fermented mash. They then add many cup filled of water which causes the swollen rice kernels to replace the alcohol with water. After a few minutes the bottom of the jar is filled with a delicious alcoholic juice. The taste was extremely sour, sweet with a touch of fermented funk; most specifically like a starburst candy rubbed around in the sediment of an unfiltered beer. After each series of gulps, the liquid would be replaced with additional water until the liquid at the bottom no longer tasted alcoholic. Unfortunately just sipping was not allowed, at first I was encouraged to drink one cup full, then two, then three, then…we acquired another lao hai clay pot…then four more cups of liquor. Then I stopped. It was just a little shy of the apex, but I did good; unfortunately the girl with a sensitive stomach did not fair so well that night and our guide was hungover the next day. Me, well I woke up fresh as a daisy to nearly fifty roosters causing a commotion over tussling a few chicken feathers, if you know what I mean?

Fire in the jungle to cook our lunch

Fire in the jungle to cook our lunch

Heart of rattan and banana flower stew

Heart of rattan and banana flower stew

Our second day of hiking would be about 13 miles (20 km) up and down the jungle ridges and following a creek through the forest. The water flow was mild, but we crossed some thirty times on our way to the lunch locations. For lunch, or local guides from Sopsine foraged for several stocks of rattan, we stripped them of their spiny bark and separated the crisp pearly heart. The banana flower was also deconstructed and the most tender pedals and filaments were kept and the bitter tougher sections discarded. They chopped a four inch diameter section of bamboo into a two foot vessel. In goes the rattan, banana flower and water; then stuff from the packs: onion, chili peppers, pre-cooked beef. This bubbled and stewed over the fire for 45 minutes when it was drained into a bamboo boat serving dish. A handful of sticky rice on a banana leaf plate and we feasted.

Our local guide cutting down banana tree

Our local guide cutting down banana tree

Butterfly in the forest

Butterfly in the forest

At the time it felt so easy and resourceful to use the jungle in this manner. We were able to feed and use the everything around us. I followed our fourteen-year-old guide into the forest. He was wearing flip flops that I saw him repairing earlier, I had my sneakers. He moved so fluid through the jungle that my loud trampling run could barely keep up. We make it to a grove of banana trees and he points at the leaf above. I think he is going to climb the fifteen foot stalk for a flower or leaf, instead I dive for cover as he slices through the eight inch trunk with four on-target whacks with his machete. He cuts off two of the six-foot leaves and we drag them to serve as a table-cloth. The area of our hike is a national protected area, but it felt like the local people and the tour groups do little to actually protect it. As a tourist, and outsider to the area, regretfully I am also a contributor.

Ants diligently and resourcefully traversing a log

Ants diligently and resourcefully traversing a log

Creek mushroom

Creek mushroom

Shortly after this I started noticing the heaps of rattan and banana scraps that have been left in the river, the forests of banana trees decimated and the enormous teak trees felled and milled into timber. I also noticed the beauty in the small creatures of the forest: a handful of ants, a butterfly and a mushroom. We passed three hunters that were illegally (but hungrily) searching for monkeys and birds on our trail. We did not see any animal wildlife during the three days. Singh, was really empowering as a guide, he literally picked up every piece of plastic he saw during our trek. Nevertheless, he still lit the fire with plastic bags as the starter. I think the people generally care about their environment and jungle, but their people have been surviving here for hundreds of years despite the imaginary protection zone that encroaches near their village. I have mixed feelings- I thoroughly enjoyed learning about surviving on the jungle, but I was uncomfortable seeing the effects of tourists like me to the jungle. The jungle is bountiful and I am happy that we had a chance to experience it.

Carmen under our "hut" next to the fire

Carmen under our “hut” next to the fire

Cheers! Real bamboo cups

Cheers! Real bamboo cups

That night we were roughing it. We laid out our cheap borrowed polyester sleeping bags on banana leaves beneath a tiny bamboo and banana leaf shack. We had a fire that I turned into a bonfire and I was later scolded for using up all the wood (that I gathered). We cooked again over the fire, but the night was short. We were all tired, a little cold and eager for the deep sleep that accompanies a long day of hiking.

Nam Khone farmland

Nam Khone farmland

Village street of Nam Khone

Village street of Nam Khone

Traditional Lentan fabric-making

Traditional Lentan fabric-making

The next morning we woke early with hot chocolate from bamboo mugs and fried rice our of banana leaf bowls. About a half hour walk into the jungle and the trees disappeared to make way for the Lentan village of Nam Khone. Many of the people of these communities have heritage from from Tibet and southern China as they were once refugees that settled in Laos two hundred years ago during Chinese civil war. The houses were mostly built on stilts with tangled alleyways confused with roaming farm animals and children. We hung out at the new school that the E.U. had built as well as watching a group of women unwind and prepare to weave a traditional fabric. The women tie their hair in a tall bun above their head that is decorated with silver coins, a thick indigo fabric is wrapped around their body and white wool angle-warmers finish the traditional outfit. We crossed through the village to rejoin the trail that climbed into the bamboo forest.

Three farmers carry their daily harvest across the river

Three farmers carry their daily harvest across the river

We hiked for several more hours that day. We cooked again using rattan, banana flowers and bamboo. It was so nice to be hiking again, up and down the mountains and through the forest is always an exhilarating experience that I enjoy. The end of our trek was met with a quick swim in the River Nam Thong and walk through the roadside village of Bom Pieam. We loaded into the tuk tuk and bounced our way to Luang Namtha. The jungle was a wonderful opportunity. We were able to gain insight about the people and their environment as well as forage for some of our own food. The impacts of our presence was not fully positive, but I value the experience enough that I would probably do it again.

Rice noodles with red sauce

Rice noodles with red sauce

That night we again slept like babies, exhausted from our trek. Our morning was rushed, we packed, checked-out and scurried around town in search of breakfast. We settled on someone’s front yard turned into a restaurant. We were given steaming bowls of rice noodles with some mysterious red sauce. I do not know if this was intended, but the end product was a delicious pasta bolognaise. Spicy and thick with tomatoes and herbs, we shoved in chop stick full after chop stick full. What luck for us to find a delicious local dish that could please our nostalgic appetites.

Nam Ha Jungle trekking map

Nam Ha Jungle trekking map

We Found Uncensored Internet! (by Nathan)

Yuan Yang Rice Terraces

Yuan Yang Rice Terraces

Thank you for your patience as we made our first pass at China. We are now in Hong Kong with this wonderful thing called fast uncensored Internet. We have so many spectacular stories to share with you. First we have to rewind to South East Asia where we were exploring Laos, then we’ll stop over in Thailand…then…Ch Ch China!

Yunnan spicy tofu rice noodles

Yunnan spicy tofu rice noodles

4FEET2MOUTHS Blog Banned in China (by Travel-Haters in the Chinese Government)

Dear Readers:

The 4FEET2MOUTHS travel and food blog will be put on a temporary hiatus for the next three weeks. We are now traveling through China and the Great (fire)Wall is in full effect. This means that every blogging, social networking and video website is blocked. We are looking into methods to circumvent this, but the addition of slow Internet makes this effort time-consuming and frustrating.

There are some great posts on the way which include trekking in the jungles of Laos, reliving my favorite 80’s song: “One Night In Bangkok,”. As well as delectable Chinese food beyond your wildest dreams.

We look forward to writing again soon,
Nathan and Carmen

Eating Pain Au Chocolat in Luang Prabang (by Carmen)

Monks enjoying a walk in the sun

Monks enjoying a walk in the sun

I’m pedaling furiously, with a scooter in front and a scooter behind me. I’m on a simple wood and iron bridge with two sets of narrow planks for scooters and bicycles to use single file. The river below peeks out through gaps in the decking. As I ride, brow furrowed in concentration, it hits me. I’m in Laos, cycling across a wooden bridge with scooters and this feels somehow normal. I have now been traveling so long that the unfamiliar has become standard. The thought brought a smile to my face.

Nathan enjoying a coffee at Le Cafe Ban Vat Sene

Nathan enjoying a coffee at Le Cafe Ban Vat Sene

Our crusty baguette and warm pain au chocolat

Our crusty baguette and warm pain au chocolat

Crossing the bridge occurred on our last day in Luang Prabang but from the beginning the town offered a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar. For example, I woke up our first morning craving some comfort. We had survived a 27 hour bus journey and I wanted a reward! So we headed over to Le Cafe Ban Vat Sene for some coffee and pastries. I bit into the warm-from-the-oven pain au chocolat and realized how very long it’s been since I’ve had such a buttery, rich delicacy. Taking our time at the cafe was a wonderfully slow introduction to Luang Prabang.

Wat Xieng Thong stencil

Wat Xieng Thong stencil

Me modeling proper wat attire - shoulders and knees covered

Me modeling proper wat attire – shoulders and knees covered

Mirror mosaics

Mirror mosaics

Nearby the cafe was Wat Xieng Thong. The beautiful stencil work at the wat inspired Nathan and I with decor ideas for our future home. I also loved the pretty mosaics that adorned the outer walls. In the main shrine, they had the life size figure of a wise looking monk in a meditation pose. These statues are sometimes metal and sometimes wax. The wax ones always make me look twice, thinking its an actual person.

Monk mentorship

Monk mentorship

Within the wat complex we saw many monks working on the grounds. Monks in Southeast Asia are not necessarily ordained for life. Instead, some are only participating for a few months or years to bring honor to themselves and their families. That’s partially why a significant portion of the monks are young boys.

Monks performing their morning alms walk

Monks performing their morning alms walk

Luang Prabang is a center of spirituality for Laos and therefore has a greater monk population. This is part of its mystique and also part of the tourist draw. One morning we awoke before sunrise to watch the morning alms procession. It is supposed to be a fulfilling experience to see people giving freely to the monks so that they may eat that day. However, it has become something of a tourist circus with big cameras being stuck in monks’ faces. But the monks handle it with grace and, hey, everyone has got to eat.

Wat rooftop

Wat rooftop

Street side noodle soup

Street side noodle soup

Speaking of eating, we made our way to a street stall for lunch after our wat visits. It was a simple noodle soup; not as complex as some the ones we were enjoying in Vietnam. But it was still full of comforting vegetables and a toothless cook bidding us “merci beaucoup” as we waved goodbye.

Mekong sunset cruise

Mekong sunset cruise

Later in the day, we were able to meet up with Julia and Jonathan again! Like us, they are fans of trying new, unfamiliar foods. Unfortunately, one of their meals did not quite agree with them. Therefore we took a nice and easy sunset cruise along the Mekong River.

Beautiful mineral rich water

Beautiful mineral rich water

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

The Mekong is not the only popular water body in Luang Prabang. We also visited the Kuang Si Waterfall. I had expected a pretty little waterfall but I was surprised to find such beautiful, bright turquoise waters. We used a side trail to reach the waterfall so it felt like our own little discovery…at least until another group of tourists showed up to our photo op space to take their pictures.

Further downstream

Further downstream

Nathan can't get enough cliff jumps in

Nathan can’t get enough cliff jumps in

The weather was absolutely perfect. Not hot, not cold, not humid, not dry. It was such a pleasant walk as we made our way downstream. Before long we found the swimming section and within seconds Nathan was jumping into the cold water. Julia and Jonathan joined in but I was content just sticking my feet in.

Farming along the road to Kuang Si Waterfall

Tad Sae Waterfall

Tad Sae Waterfall

Thailand has some big spiders

Thailand has some big spiders

We could have enjoyed the swimming hole a bit longer but there was another waterfall on our itinerary. Tad Sae Waterfall is accessed via an easy, stone path winding its way through the jungle. Or so I was told. I had stubbed my toe at the Kuang Si Waterfall and did not feel up to visiting the second one. While I recovered, Nathan, Julia and Jonathan enjoyed the natural beauty of Tad Sae.

Huge moss covered tree overlooking Big Tree Cafe

Huge moss covered tree overlooking Big Tree Cafe

Before we knew it, our final dinner with Julia and Jonathan was upon us. It had been awesome to visit Hoi An, Hanoi, Halong Bay and Luang Prabang with them! Together we toasted all the good times over Korean food at Big Tree Cafe.

BBQ lunch

BBQ lunch

Biking with scooters on the wooden bridge

Biking with scooters on the wooden bridge

Which brings me back to the wooden bridge I mentioned earlier. Nathan and I decided to rent bikes and ride to the bus station for tickets. This took us out of the normal tourist zone pretty quickly. On our way back we noticed a smoking hot BBQ and decided to stop for lunch. We ordered what we thought was a pork chop on the grill, which turned out to be a slab of pork fat. Whoops! Not bad with some beer and tamarind hot sauce.

Example of hillside tribe clothing (photo credit: TAEC)

Example of hillside tribe clothing (photo credit: TAEC)

One of our last sights of Luang Prabang was the excellent Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre which clearly outlined the various ethnic hill tribes of Laos. They each have distinct languages, customs and dress. Fortunately we were going to see some of these tribes first hand since our next stop would be a three day jungle trek to visit mountainous villages. We bid goodbye to the cosy comforts of Luang Prabang and boarded a bus to Luang Namtha.

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