4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the category “Thailand”

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.

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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!

Koh Tao-ism (by Carmen)

Beach view on Koh Tao

Beach view on Koh Tao

We disembarked from our overnight ferry and stepped onto the shores of Koh Tao (Turtle Island) off the east coast of Thailand. Despite the lush hills and palm tree lined shores I was seeing, I was slightly disappointed. There was more rocky cove and less sandy beach than I had been hoping for. We decided to walk north to see what we found. Three kilometers later we winded our way down the path to Bow Thong Resort and found what I was looking for: a little slice of paradise.

Our bungalow

Our bungalow

After quickly settling into our little bungalow, we threw on our swim suits and hopped into a lounge chair. Given the beach bumming in Phuket in the days previous, our trip was feeling more like a vacation than a travel adventure. It’s good to take a break sometimes.

The beach at Bow Thong Resort

The beach at Bow Thong Resort

We spent the day alternating between dipping into the cool, clear waters and hiding from the scorching sun under our umbrella. Since there was wifi on the beach we took the opportunity to call our families and gloat, I mean, let them know we were safe.

Sunset joy

Sunset joy

Fiery sunset

Fiery sunset

The sunset was brilliant and beautiful. The colors merged between sky and sea in a fiery glow. As the day closed it also marked a transition for me. The next morning I woke up and was officially one year older.

Pork noodles

Pork noodles

Duck noodles

Duck noodles

I’m not going to lie. Spending you birthday in paradise is a wonderful thing. I started the day out right with brunch at the oddly named 995 Duck. The pork and duck noodles were the best meal we had on the island.

Koh Nang Yuan

Koh Nang Yuan

Next we boarded a bright orange, blue and green taxi boat for the 10 minute ride to a little strip of sand called Koh Nang Yuan. The coral-strewn sand bar separates two crystal bays punctuated by small, lush hills.

Overprotective snorkeling

Overprotective snorkeling

From our staked out square of sand we watched diving classes, which is the reason most people come to Koh Tao. But today we were part of the snorkeling crowd. This group was entertaining to watch, especially the Chinese mom almost drowning her son with so much floating gear he could hardly move.

Snorkeling bay called the Japanese Garden

Snorkeling bay called the Japanese Garden

When we made it into the water with our masks I was awestruck. The fish were yellow backed with little neon strips of warpaint under their eyes. Black with orange stripes. Bright blue. Neon yellow, green and pink. But the real show stopper was the plant and reef life. The variety of coral from leaf like shapes to stalagmite growths to flat geometric patterns covering rocks. We even saw brilliant purple anemones as big as basketballs. I really wish I had Nalat’s underwater camera to capture it all!

Enjoying the strip of beach

Enjoying the strip of beach

Blooming coconut on a bed of coral

Blooming coconut on a bed of coral

After a short hike, we boarded the taxi back to Koh Tao. I will not soon forget this picture perfect birthday.

Eating carrot cake

Eating carrot cake

But what is a birthday without cake? Fortunately a British expat opened a shop to ensure that anyone requiring baked sweets was not left behind. I enjoyed a very satisfying carrot cake, making me a very happy birthday girl.

Just another beautiful sunset

Just another beautiful sunset

How does it get any better? Another glorious sunset, mango cocktails on a candlelit beach…let’s just say Koh Tao was everything I’d hoped for and more. It was the perfect place to celebrate my birthday as well as the big 3-0 (that’s the number of countries we have visited in our lives – not the number of years quite yet!) Already, country number 31 is in our sights as the temples of Angkor beckon.

Phuket, Get Me Some Dirty Noodles, Extra Spicy (by Nathan)

Dry noodles with pork and dumplings

Dry noodles with pork and dumplings

Enter paradise and you will find that thousands arrived before you and will continuously arrive throughout your stay.  Sometimes we just have to throw up our hands and say “Phuket” and have a good time anyway.  The hoards of tourists make it challenging to get amazing authentic Thai food, thus it became our motto to search for the “dirty noodles.” On side streets and alleyways, market stalls and hilltops we were going to enjoy Phuket and eat well too.  Who cares if your restaurant has a peppy australian or ladyboy serving bolognaise, burgers and beer, we want noodles and curries over rice and make that shit spicy.  4feet2mouths had doubled in proportion with our friends Nalat and Tim.  With scooters and sandals we were determined to explore and conquer Phuket.

Scooty Booty Biker Gang

Scooty Booty Biker Gang

Pork fried rice

Pork fried rice

Phuket is an island, a rather large island with multiple cities.  We desperately needed wheels and it was hard to resist almost new scooters at $7 per day.  It seemed rather funny that so many blondes and beach bebops rode around in just skimpy bathing suits.  Instead we wore clothes, Tim and I fashioned bandannas on our heads, our ladies grabbed on tight and the birth of a new biker gang emerged from the depths of Kata Beach: Scooty Booty.  The first stop was dirty noodles of course!  We had egg noodles, rice noodles and crispy noodles with clear, spicy and red broths and pork balls, fish balls, shrimp and wontons.  The second lunch of the day was a fried rice stand.  Up and down the island we rode and not even a late monsoon rain storm could stop us.

Fluorescent sunset

Fluorescent sunset

Feast at Khao Rung Tung Ka Cafe

Feast at Khao Rung Tung Ka Cafe

The evening approached with a sunset that made the eighties look dull.  The pinks were so bright that I started to miss “A Flock Of Seagulls.”  Back on our scooters hogs we putted roared into the night.  We snaked through the jungle and up a small mountain to treat ourselves to a fabulous Thai meal looking over the city.  Go to Khao Rung Tung Ka Cafe if you are in Phuket. We ordered spicy shrimp “dip” with fresh veggies, local greens pak good, satol beans with pork, coconut crab curry with rice noodles and a whole fish roasted with lemongrass. It was another Thai feast and oh was it good.

Phuket school of fish

Phuket school of fish (Photo credit: Nalat)

Tim and I snorkeling

Tim and I snorkeling (Photo credit: Nalat)

Floating leaf

Floating leaf

We needed the fuel because the next day we scuba dove into the crystal clear depths of the Indian Ocean.  Schools of fish fluttered around us of every color.  Lion fish, eels, and cuttlefish entertained us with each artificial breath.  We were able to do some snorkeling with a waterproof camera.

Three paper lanterns ready to take flight

Three paper lanterns ready to take flight

That night was special across Thailand.  The first full moon of the dry season, called Loi Krathong, enables a time of hope for the months ahead.  Woven boats carry candles and wishes into the tide and paper lanterns float away with promises and dreams.  We each released a lantern into the sky.  The light frame and tissue encasing are carefully expanded with the ocean breeze then the coil is lit on fire.  The hot air fills the cubic balloon and with a hopeful holding of our breath we each in turn made a wish and let go…  They climb higher and higher into the night transforming to a tiny orange speck among the stars.  The flame either silently fades out of existence or lights the entire lantern ablaze as a last glorified hoorah.

Phi Phi Island

Phi Phi Island

Colorful boat taxi on Phi Phi island

Colorful boat taxi on Phi Phi island

Our next day ws another stuffed with beautiful sights.  We positioned ourselves on a sardine can of a boat set out for Phi Phi island.  The scenery was magical with black cliffs climbing sharply from the sea and topped with tropical jungles.  White sugar-like beaches, coral formations and a variety of fish all welcomed us to this paradise.  We snorkeled, avoided the crowds and snorkeled some more.  The sun was intense and the water slightly cooler and refreshing.

Hermit crab (photo credit: Nalat)

Hermit crab (photo credit: Nalat)

At night we wondered along Kata Beach in search of food.  We opted for the ocean view atmosphere over the “locals eat here.”  Nalat must have told them to rock our world because this meal was the spiciest thing we have consumed in Thailand.  At one point Carmen had tears dripping down her cheeks between bites.  And all of us dripped with sweat to deal with the Thai heat.  That night Nalat found this wonderful helmet crab on the prowl along the shore.

Grilled chicken with spicy, tangy sweet dipping sauce

Grilled chicken with spicy, tangy sweet dipping sauce

Pad Krapow!

Pad Krapow!

A morning at the beach and we were ready for more food.  We trekked our way up to the busy main road in search of other Thais eating lunch.  We found a guy grilling some chicken and the attached cafe tucked away.  I had been craving pad ka prow, ground pork, chillies and a more medicinal tasting Thai holy basil.  Again we ate more than our fair share, but real Thai food is so good!

Phuket waterfall

Phuket waterfall

Lantern street in Phuket Town

Lantern street in Phuket Town

With an afternoon free we rented some more scooters and unleashed terror on the streets.  We visited and hiked to a small waterfall.  We cruised the streets in search of restaurants, markets and whatever had people and food.  Again we found ourselves sharing bowls of slimy and rich pork noodles.  For dessert we grabbed a bag of rambutans and mangosteens to be eaten at the hotel.

Phuket sunset silhouette

Phuket sunset silhouette

Want to know the sign of good friends?  Friends will join us anywhere in the world just to tell us that we are missed.  Great friends realize that we might be missing good wine by now.  Nalat and Tim brought us not one, but two bottles (a Bordeaux and Turley at that!).  The laughs and conversation continued late into the night.  In the morning they left us, the room felt empty and the reality of it being only 4feet2mouths was once again.

Boat noodles in a bookstore

Boat noodles in a bookstore

Delectable boat noodles

Delectable boat noodles

Carmen and I packed our bags and made way for Phuket Town.  We wondered aimlessly without our Thai guide Nalat.  There was still hope for us as we did discover this wonderful Blog.  There was only one thing that could sooth us from missing our friends…dirty noodles.  Coffee shop in a bookstore: BORING, boat noodles in a bookstore? That’s AWESOME!  A touch of sugar, a little vinegar and chillies, a dabble of fish sauce and a spoonful of dried red peppers and we were on our way to feeling much better. Noodles doctored to perfection!

Kanom jee spread

Kanom jee spread

In the morning we were in higher spirits.  The rain crashed in buckets overhead, but with our ponchos we stayed mostly dry.  Breakfast had one goal- Kanom jee at Pa Mai.  We doused a plateful of rice noodles with several curries and sat down at a table.  A tray  of crisp and pickled vegetables awaited our consumption.  There was a renewed sense of strength within us, “we can do this, we can travel within Thailand.”

Bags packed full and buckles cinched tight we were on the move.  Local bus to the bus terminal, then a five hour regional bus to the ferry terminal.  A meal from several streetside carts  delivered us more boat noodles, fried rice and spicy long beans.  Sandals off, we crawled onto our mat beds for the night.  The rumble and rocking of the boat was almost enough for a peaceful night’s rest. Goodnight Phuket, goodnight to our friends and family (and readers).  In the morning we will be in Koh Tao.

Giving Thanks Thai Style in Bangkok (by Carmen)

Scrumptious snacks - pork over rice, coconut toast, chicken satay

Scrumptious snacks – pork over rice, coconut toast, chicken satay

Arriving from Delhi, Bangkok was a breath of fresh air.  Our smooth, air-conditioned taxi glided through the streets.  It was a stark contrast to the bumpy airport ride in the bare bones taxi in Delhi.  On the streets there were actual crosswalks to safely cross, vehicles often stopped for pedestrians, and there was comparatively no honking! It felt relatively quiet and welcoming – especially when we were received with a warm smile by our close friend, Nalat.  As we hugged our hellos a lone firework was set off nearby – an auspicious start to our reunion.  She ushered us in and fed us coconut pies made by her grandmother’s bakery, which she had just visited in northern Thailand.

Roast chicken with chili dipping sauce

Roast chicken with chili dipping sauce

The next day was thanksgiving.  Our late night the previous evening meant we got a late start to the day but that’s ok because we had a single, thanksgiving-appropriate goal: food.  Lip-smacking, finger-licking, irresistibly good food.

Nalat is a Bangkok native that we met during college.  Over the years we grew close over our mutual love of cooking and eventually started a bi-weekly dinner party with our friend Brenda.  So to spend the the next week and a half with a fellow foodie that can navigate Thai menus and food blogs and that you love spending time with – that’s striking gold!

Green papaya salad with crab

Green papaya salad with crab

Our first adventure was a local market, well-lit, white-tiled and filled with produce and hawker stalls.  First stop: crispy roast chicken with a sweet chili dipping sauce and tangy, crunchy papaya salad with crab.  We complemented this with green coconut based curry over rice noodles and sator, a large bean, stir fried with dried shrimp over rice.  The textures and bright flavors were exactly what we wanted in our first Thai meal.

Mangosteen

Mangosteen

We decided on a dessert of fruit.  Nathan and I were happy to be reunited with the delicious fruit we encountered on our first trip to Asia in 2009.  One of our favorites was mangosteen, which on the inside looks like garlic but tastes more like strawberry.  We also sampled a few pieces of durian, which were smooth, creamy and much less pungent than other varieties we had tried.

Boat noodles

Thick boat noodles

Thin boat noodles

Thin boat noodles

The three of us walked around Bangkok a bit stopping at Mont for hot toast slathered with coconut spread.  We eventually settled in a cafe for a few beers and lots of catch up talk. Soon enough it was time for dinner so we walked into a restaurant serving boat noodles.  Boat noodles are so called because they were once sold by floating vendors.  They refer to a simple dish of broth, noodles and a few pieces of meat or seafood.  Bowls are rather small so you can have multiple or just have one as a snack.  Nalat gave us a lesson on how to order with broth or dry (naam or haeng) and noodle width.  I prefer sen yai (thick) while Nathan opts for sen lai (thin).

Pad Thai deliciousness!

Pad Thai deliciousness!

Our boat noodles were a mere snack for the main dinner – pad thai.  This is the dish Thailand is known for.  The place we ate was churning out plate after plate of the good stuff mixed with your choice of meat or seafood.  You could even get your bundle of noodles wrapped in a thin layer of egg.  The traditional Thai flavors – salty, sweet, sour, spicy – were respectively represented on the table with fish sauce, sugar, vinegar and chili powder.  We customized the balance of taste in our pad Thai and dug in.  I like that at the end of the meal the waiter gave us a sticker that says something like “pad thai is flying yummy” alongside a winged plate of the noodles.

Weekend brunch - congee and chicken rice

Weekend brunch – congee and chicken rice

The next morning, Nalat and her mom greeted us with congee (rice porridge) and chicken rice.  We relaxed while we waited for another close friend, Nalat’s boyfriend, Tim to join us.  He arrived and there were more smiles and hugs.  Despite his 19 hour trip, Tim was ready to jump right in to Bangkok so off we went to explore.

Floating clovers at the Jim Thompson House

Floating clovers at the Jim Thompson House

Yes we did more than just eat!  Ok fine, first we had pork over rice and some excellent chicken satay. Then we went to the Jim Thompson House.  Thompson was a silk trader enamored with Thai culture and he built this elegant raised house mixing eastern and western styles.  Even the gardens were peaceful and artfully arranged.

Solid gold Buddha

Solid gold Buddha

Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

Buddha's toes

Buddha’s toes

Afterwards, we explored a few buddhist wat (temples).  The first, Wat Traimit, was known for having a solid gold Buddha that weighs 5.5 tonnes!  Next we made our way to Wat Pho to see the famous reclining buddha.  He definitely looked at peace lying there. My favorite part were his mother of pearl decorated feet.

Bangkok Chinatown

Bangkok Chinatown

Duck noodle stand in Chinatown

Duck noodle stand in Chinatown

Duck noodles

Duck noodles

Chinatown had its own busy character distinct from the other neighborhoods of Bangkok.  Mandarin drifted out of the busy restaurants.  Sharks fin was advertised in restaurant windows.  We were here for duck noodles served up by a stand that had carved some space out from the busy central street.  The duck noodles were indeed delicious with their rich broth washed down with some Chang beers.

Wat Phra Kaew golden tiles

Wat Phra Kaew golden tiles

Wat Phra Kaew golden monkey and colorful temple

Wat Phra Kaew golden monkey and colorful temple

Traditional Thai costume session

Traditional Thai costume session

The four of us squeezed in more culture the next day with a visit to the grand palace and its associated Wat Phra Kaew.  It was laid out quite differently than a european palace – it was more of a jumble of different styles crammed in together.  We learned about the royal family, how Thailand avoided colonization and how some of the buildings were inspired by royal visits to Versailles and Buckingham Palace.  Then we got a chance to play dress up.

Crispy wonton noodles

Crispy wonton noodles

We followed up the palace with noodles served in pork broth with crispy bits of pork belly thrown in.  Extra crunch was provided by fried wonton. I, for one, can never get enough noodles so I am in heaven.  Especially when eaten on plastic stools in a narrow, dimly lit alleyway.

The Thai iced coffee and tea guru

The Thai iced coffee and tea guru

Moo Naam Tok (spicy pork)

Moo Naam Tok (spicy pork)

Our last day in Bangkok was market day.  In the morning we went to the sprawling Chatachuk weekend market.  It’s labyrinth of stalls has cool t shirts, jewelry, shoes, housewares and food all mixed up together.  We enjoyed some Thai tea and coffee from one steamy corner.  In another part of the market we ordered moo naam tok which was tangy and delicious.

Amphawa floating market

Amphawa floating market

Fried shrimp at floating market

Fried shrimp at floating market

The food didn’t stop there.  With Nalat’s mom, we all made the 2 hour ride to Amphawa for the floating market along a canal.  We sampled a variety of Thai snacks, my favorite being the deep fried garlic shrimp.  In the evening, as a few fire flies were lighting up we boarded a boat and received an hour long foot massage as we floated along the canal to a lazy river.  Pretty ideal for only $12.

Thailand is a wonderful place to spend thanksgiving weekend.  I missed some of my American favorites with family but am happy to have shared the holiday with Nalat and Tim.  I know I have much to be thankful for. Family to miss back home, friends to laugh with, a fiancée to hold hands with, and a world to explore.

THANKSGIVING CONVERSIONS
-Turkey with cranberry sauce – roast chicken with chili vinegar dipping sauce
-Stuffing – egg stuffed with pad Thai
-Mashed potatoes and gravy – rice noodles with coconut curry
-Green beans – satol beans with dried shrimp
-Salad – papaya salad with crab
-Pumpkin pie – coconut toast

The Best Garlic Noodles (by Nathan)

We are hiking the Camino de Santiago, enjoy this recipe while we walk our butts off.

Thai has a special place in Carmen and my kitchen.  The food is spicy, sour and sweet; these are flavors that we just can’t get enough of.  Last year I took a four week Thai cooking course and this was one of my favorite recipes.  The instructor was Kasma Loha-unchit who teaches more courses and dishes than you will ever have time to fully take.  I like this one because it was easy enough for me to make on a weeknight, but with flavors that made me excited to have leftovers for several days afterwards.

Finished garlic noodles

RECIPE FOR GARLIC NOODLES
Inspired by Kasma Loha-unchit
Serves 5-6 as main course (8-10 with additional dishes)

For Noodles:
1 lb package thin Chinese noodles (fresh chow mein from Chinese market)
1-1/2 heads garlic – chopped fine
1/4 cup peanut (or coconut oil, other high-heat oils may be substituted, for a loss in flavor)
1/4 cup Tianjin preserved vegetables – chopped fine
1/2 cup roasted and unsalted peanuts – chopped
2-3 Tbs. fish sauce (Golden Boy or brand without preservatives)
2-3 tsp. sugar to taste
Lime juice of 1/2 to 1 lime to taste

Fresh vegetables to be mixed in:
4 cups bean sprouts- washed and drained
8 green unions- slice finely and separate white and green parts
5-6 Thai chilies or 1-2 fresno peppers – chopped fine
1 small bunch of cilantro – chopped; reserve 2-3 stems with leaves for garnish
1/2 of large remain lettuce heart – chop into bite-sized portions

For the toppings:
12-16 oz. Charsiew BBQ pork – chop in thin slices
Ground roasted dried chilies
Finely sliced rounds of serrano peppers in 1/2 cup white vinegar, 1 tsp. fish sauce and 1 tsp. sugar
Chopped peanuts
Chopped Thai chilies or fresno peppers in fish sauce

Chopped and assembled vegetables

Sliced charsiew

Substitutions:
This dish really cannot be successful without fish sauce.  The aroma and salty savory qualities from fish sauce really bring out the flavors of the garlic noodles.  Charsiew is very common in the Bay Area and can be found at most Chinese grocery stores.  In hangs in big dripping slabs that have been roasted and glazed in a red sweet sauce.  A highly flavorful roasted chicken or tofu could be used.  The Tianjin vegetables are a very salty and pungent cabbage stored in a clay pot.  We had been using these for Sichuan cuisine and found them in SF Chinatown.  You may need more fish sauce if you choose to omit these.  Fresno peppers are a red jalapeño.  I sometimes substitute fresh baby spinach for the romaine.

Garlic frying in peanut oil

Golden garlic goodness

1) One hour ahead.  Bring a pot of heavily salted water to boil and cook the noodles until soft, but not mushy.  When cooked remove noodles from pot, drain and set into extra-large bowl.  In a steel wok or cast-iron skillet heat the oil until almost smoking.  Add the garlic and stir until almost fully golden.  In the last 30 seconds add the white parts of the green onion.  Pour the garlic, oil and onion remnants into a heat-proof bowl and set aside.

Mix in garlic into cooked noodles

2) 45 minutes ahead.  Mix garlic, oil, Tianjin vegetables, peanuts, chili peppers, green onions and bean sprouts into noodles.  Douse the noodles with about 1 Tbs. of fish sauce and 2 tsp. of sugar and toss again thoroughly.  Taste it, the noodles need to be salty enough to taste the garlic and sweet enough deliver the spicy peppers.  Add more fish sauce and squeeze in 1/2 of a lime, toss again.  Continue to alternate tasting and adding fish sauce, sugar and lime until the balanced.  Let sit for a couple minutes, toss and taste again.

Fine tune flavors with fish sauce, sugar and lime

3) 15 minutes ahead.  Fold in the romaine lettuce and cilantro. Lay the charsiew over the top.  Place a few sprigs of cilantro around the edges.

Vinegar, fish sauce, sugar and chilies to be added to taste be each diner

4) Serve.  I typically eat these noodles tepid or just slightly warm.  Place a heaping mound of noodles on a plate.  Pick out a few pieces of barbecued pork to lay over them.  Sprinkle with additional peanuts and ground chili peppers.  Additional fish sauce or vinegar with chilies can also be added to bring out an immediate freshness to the dish.  Serve second, thirds and walk away stuffed.

What Now? (by Nathan & Carmen)

Returning to San Francicso

Nathan’s favorite restaurant: Sol Food in San Rafael

When we initially thought of traveling for six months to a year the idea was more of a dream than a reality.  Traveling internationally becomes an addiction, some call it the travel bug, but our need to travel became a living necessity after our first trips to Europe.  The symptoms are rather subtle at first: excitement to review photos, enthusiasm when returning to our jobs and enjoyment to fall back into the routine of ordinary life.  Fast forward a couple months and the restlessness initiates the ideas of another big trip start forming.  We typically settle the anxiety through a scattering of weekend trips and hiking adventures.  Eventually the urge to travel becomes so intense that we busy ourselves planning the destinations of our next multi-week exploration.

Carmen on Barcelona steps (2006)

Returning to California meant some big choices.  While there were seemingly endless possibilities of what to do next, for us, it really came down to two.  Option 1 is to settle down somewhere and start job hunting.  “Somewhere” is still to be determined which is both scary and exciting.  Option 2 is to keep going and take the full year off to travel, explore, meet new people, hike, and eat delicious foods.  After much thought, financial analysis and discussion, we decided there was really only one responsible choice.  We simply had to find out what was behind door number 2.

Carmen enjoying a rosé and a perfect lunch at Prune in NYC (2011)

New York street art and bicycle (2011)

So we finally committed to a full year off.  Woo hoo!  Then the challenge was to figure out what the rest of the year includes.  First we made a fantasy list of all the places we would ever like to go if money and time were no object (i.e. the fun part). Next we cut down that list to what we could realistically do (i.e. the less fun part). Now we are in the midst of doing all the planning required to make the dream come true.  The rough itinerary for the rest of the year is as follows:

  • Summer 2012 :: USA
  • September – October 2012 :: Europe
  • November 2012 :: India
  • December 2012 :: Southeast Asia
  • January 2013 :: China

The blog continues! And we will be sharing and documenting the details right here for everyone to enjoy.  Here is a teaser of the things to come:

Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park (2010)

In 2010 we hiked embarked on a week-long expedition into the canyons of Southern Utah.  We discovered majestic scenery and seemingly painted landscapes.  Our enjoyment of the canyons of Cafayate and the beautiful rocks of our Salar de Uyuni adventure enticed us to go and see one thing – The Grand Canyon.  There will be more hikes, more food and more red canyons.

New York density (2011)

Chicago highrises (2011)

Our United States tour will continue from vertical cliffs to vertigo skyscrapers as we explore New York City and Chicago with friends and family.  From there we trade in the tallest buildings for the tallest rows of corn, Nebraska here we come!

Hiking with Manish in Muir Woods (2010)

Having a laugh outside Bouchon Bakery

We return for the best of California summer where we will be posting about the best spots in San Francisco and Los Angeles.  You can expect hiking and all of our favorite restaurants.

Gaudí’s Casa Batlló (2006)

The real excursion happens in September.  With our passports in hand, clothes freshly laundered we will be climbing aboard another jet plane for another five months of adventure.  First stop Spain.  There are just some activities that would never happen unless we took a year off to travel.  Thus, let’s put a our four feet to the test as we will be walking 500 miles across northern Spain on the Santiago de Compostela trail.

Nathan on the Thames (2010)

London’s historic architecture (2006)

Spain is not the only European place we want to see.  We’ll tie in our favorite city, London, France, Germany and some great wine excursions along the way.

Indian lunch while in Singapore (2009)

But nothing will be as bustling and exciting as what we expect to find in our next country.  We are both excited and almost giddy to begin our exploration of India.  We can’t wait to experience the intense flavors, markets and crowds that are unlike anything we have ever seen.

Thai cooking by 4FEET2MOUTHS (2011)

Our love of Thai food and our love of our Thai friend brings us to this beautiful country.  From boat-side street food to dancing octopus we will be trying to stay cool while eating chilies in Thailand.  Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam will conclude our exploration of the Indochinese peninsula.

Shanghai nightscape (2009)

Pan-fried Soup Dumplings at Yang’s in Shanghai (2009)

Asia would not be complete without seeing more of the wonders of China.  Carmen and I fell in love with the authentic and varied cuisines during a vacation in 2009.  From then on we have been obsessed with Sichuan cuisine.  We are looking forward to hardcore negotiating at the markets, mouth numbing delights from street side vendors and, of course, much hand waving and pointing.

Hong Kong density (2009)

Dim sum craziness in Hong Kong (2009)

We could not forget Hong Kong!  This city packs a punch with more fifty story buildings than anywhere else, delicious food and a perfect blend of East and West.

The Great wall of China (2009)

How about that for a year of travel?  We will explore four continents, over sixteen countries, all the while creating profound memories.  As much as possible we are going to try to meet up with friends along the way.  We will walk, we will eat and 4FEET2MOUTHS travels on – see you on the road!

Forbidden city cauldron handle (2009)

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