True Confessions of a Travel Addict – I Don’t Like Bangkok

I try to never hate anything, hate is a strong word. When it comes to travel, I especially make every effort to step outside of my comfort zone and open up to different worlds, experiences…but despite my best efforts I could not make myself fall in love with Bangkok.

It’s kind of like the single guy who looks great on paper but when you meet him he’s a dud and there’s no chemistry. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but Bangkok was my dud. Great food, beautiful temples, ping pong sex shows, what more could I ask for?! I just couldn’t get past the smog and pollution (Thais even use surgical masks when they walk down the roads or ride on motorbikes), the dirty squalor, the humid heat with no wind, and the coldness of the people who were only superficially nice. I’m from FL, so I know a little bit about humidity and heat, but Bangkok was simply oppressive. Thailand is supposed to be the land of smiling faces, but that was not my experience in Bangkok.

Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, is in the northern part of the country and is completely different. I liken it to the difference between New York (Bangkok) and Chicago (Chiang Mai). The people are genuinely friendly, the weather pleasantly cool, the air clear enough to breathe, surrounding nature is stunning, and the food even better.

The next time I go to Thailand, I’ll skip Bangkok and spend lots of time trekking around Chiang Mai (plus head to a less populated island in the south). If you’ve never been, you should definitely go to Bangkok. I just wouldn’t go for more than 3 days.

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Hyatt in Hua Hin, Thailand

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The second most beautiful resort I’ve ever been to, the Hyatt Hua Hin is lovely. The lobby is open air and overlooks and enormous elephant statue and the sea. Meandering pools, a slide for the kiddies, and a secluded area for preferred Hyatt guests make it wonderful as well. After a small hiccup or two and a mild complaint by me (which I rarely do), I was upgraded to a two room suite. Lucky girl I am!

The spa, called Barai, is also extraordinary. It does’t surpass my beloved Grove Park Inn Spa in Asheville, NC (due to its stunning views, very comfortable relaxation areas, unmatched stone pool, and fantastic sauna/steam/plunge pool) but it does have the most beautiful architecture and treatment rooms. After walking through the tranquility court, you enter the spa reception. Even the hallways, locker room, and shower areas are interesting from an artistic perspective. Snapping photos all the way, my breath was taken away when I entered my treatment room. I was to have a traditional Thai massage after a milk bath. The pictures don’t begin to even describe how sensational this place was….niches backlit, mosaic mirrors, enormous tub floating in water, stained glass, 20 ft. tall wood doors, even the skylight was art. I’ve been fortunate enough to see many beautiful things in my travels, but I fell in love.

Finally, my last night in Thailand happened to be Valentines. Ooof. I went to dinner for a last hurrah at the McFarland House on site at the Hyatt. Located right on the ocean with beautifully lit columns, tables, jazz music, the sound of the sea was what I wanted. Unfortunately, I was reminded or asked five times by the staff that I was alone on this holiday for lovers…YES, I get it….NO, it did not escape my consciousness.

That being said, my stay was wonderful. The people were kind and accommodating in a way that is rarely experienced elsewhere. I’d love to come back here….just not on the day of love!

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Location:Hua Hin, Thailand

Baanrai Yarmyin in Chiang Mai, Thailand – Best Meal of My Life

Last month I discovered Pok Pok, a restaurant in Portland, OR that was ecstasy. The guy who owns it studied food in Thailand, with an emphasis on northern cuisine, Chiang Mai in particular. I posted on his Facebook page and asked for suggestions while in Thailand. He was kind enough to reply with the tip that Baanrai Yarmyen would be a good place to eat.



Boy was he right. I don’t know even where to start. First of all, I was the only farang (westerner) around. Second, when I asked for transport from a local I got big smiles and knowing nods. Upon arriving at Baanrai, after a 10 minute drive OUT of town, I was blown away. Amidst the chaos and dirty side streets was this oasis. As you walk in, you hear the soothing sounds of a waterfall, a live guitarist singing both Thai and American folk songs, and the chatter of Thai families ending their day together at dinner. It’s name actually means ‘country house at sunset.’

Baan Yarmyen band




When I sat, they gave me a 28 page menu with no less than 15 items per page. It was overwhelming but after a bit of study, my waitress came to take my order. She giggled and offered different suggestions, for which I’m eternally grateful because this meal turned out to be the best of my life.

Dinner - Fav dish is in the middle

I wound up with a mound of fried little fish (with spicy sauce), a vegetable and chicken curry, and the dish I’ll be dreaming about for a long time, gaeung curry with pork (northern Thai curry). It was all good, but the gaeng hanglay muu was remarkable. Red, spicy (but they held back a bit for this farang), rich, and deep developed flavors enveloped fork tender, stewed pork that had fatty bits. Eaten with a bit of rice, it was perfection. Later, I even sought out the right curry powder for it (red curry won’t do), and found a recipe I can’t wait to try (see below).

Utterly stuffed and buzzed from my two large Singha beers, life felt complete and it was time to head back to my river refuge, Galare Guest House. My waitress took extra care of me, got me a taxi and made sure I was able to find it outside the gate of Baanrai. I really must write the owners and tell them what a great job she did.

Waitress Who Led Me Down the Path!

This place is what I came to Thailand for.  All along I’ve had good food, some even really good (ex. swimmer crab in yellow curry at Nuhm – at the Metropolitan Hotel and which I recommend, various dishes in the Saochingchao area) quite frankly I had been marginally disappointed. What I’d had here wasn’t better than my sisters butter chicken (it curls my toes to think about it), my moms garbanzo bean soup, anything my chef uncle has ever cooked me…until this meal.

Perhaps it was the ambiance, exceptional food, the gracious waitress, or all of it put together, but this experience was truly remarkable. I will take the memories of this night with me to other far away lands for many years to come.

Baanrai Yarmyen
For more info:
Phone 053-247999
Address 14 M.3 Jaroenraj Rd., T.Faham Muang


Gaeng Hanglay Muu Recipee
This dish is prepared in large quantities for important occasions and requires simmering for a long time.

1lb 2oz pork cut into 1 in pieces

2T fish sauce

2T palm sugar

1t gaeng hanglay curry powder (made of equal parts cumin, tumeric, coriander, mace powders)

4T oil

3T gaeng hanglay curry paste (can substitute red curry paste for this but NOT for the powder)

2 cups water

3T peanuts, roasted until brown

1/2 cup ginger (skin removed, cut into strips) 

3T tamarind juice (if not available, pour hot water over fresh SOUR tamarind  (not sweet variety) and then squeeze to extract juice)

Put the pork in a bowl along with the paste, fish sauce, palm sugar, curry powder, mix well and leave for 20 minutes or as long as overnight. 

Put oil in wok and fry pork and marinade until cooked on outside.  Add the water, bring to a boil.  Add peanuts, ginger, and tamarind juice, simmer for at least 15 minutes but preferably until sauce is thick.  You may need to add some more water.

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Hua Hin, Thailand – Not Just Another Market


Honestly, by the time I made it to Hua Hin I’d been to so many markets I was pretty much burnt out on them. After a three hour drive from Bangkok, my host told me I must go to this one, a small market just outside the hotel.


If someone tells me something is a must, I usually give it a shot. So after a few hours soaking up the warmth of the sun and breathing in the salt air of the ocean, I meandered up to this spot. It is labeled as an art market and was certainly different than any other I’ve been to.

For starters, it was clean! Open only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, it was lit with white lights, surrounded with white picket fence, and organized. There were food vendors galore in a fenced area with clean shabby chic tables. AND there was a band. A really good band! They sang both Thai and western classics and it was such a joy to sit outside, eat wonderful food, and enjoy people watching.

In my limited experience, it seems Thailand doesn’t have a lot of venues that offer this type of lovely, relaxed experience. In fact it was so nice I went back Sunday night as well.

Roasting Fish

Food Vendors


Northern Thai curry vendor, serving from clay pots

During my tenure here I’ve become addicted to Khao Soi (northern Thai curry) and found it wonderful here, too. Other great things I tried included crab with fried rice, whole white snapper, chicken katsu, cuttlefish, sugarcane juice served in bamboo ‘glass,’ and coconut ice cream with condiments served in a coconut. It was blissful.

My beloved northern Thai curry

Coconut Ice Cream Station

Juices served in bamboo

In addition to the food and music, there were artists selling quite good oil paintings and sketching patrons. There were also the obligatory trinket vendors, but I did find some really good handmade leather items that they inscribed for free.

All in all, I highly recommend heading to this market. It was a great way to end a day at the beach!

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Location:Hua Hin, Thailand

Thai Buddhism – Tak Bart Ceremony in Hua Hin

Tak Bart Ceremony

The Thai are both a devout and superstitious people. In taxis you’ll find flowers hanging from rear view mirrors as good luck, you’ll hear prayers whispered in a few words, and see small Buddhist shrines everywhere. These shrines are important, sometimes taxis will even lightly honk at them as they drive by for luck. Thais make offerings of simple but meaningful gifts such as soup, water, flowers, etc. It is both charming and fascinating to a westerner such as myself.

I’ve enjoyed hearing stories and watching the rituals despite that I’m not in the least bit religious. Thais call these mini-shrines shan-pa-poom (my spelling). Each house has one and someone makes an offering to it every day.

In addition, there is a ceremony called Tak Bart, in which prayers are made, blessings given, and offerings to monks made in the form of food. This is how the monks subsist and the blessings are meant to nurture your body and soul.

I had the opportunity to observe Tak Bart and was quite honored to do so. A senior monk sat on a platform with a sacred vessel in front of him. Prayers and chants were said for about 20 minutes. At times the faithful repeated them, bowed to the floor, and during the entire ceremony hands were held in prayer.

After the blessings were complete, each person offered food. It was placed in the sacred vessel and a bow was offered.

I believe in learning about cultures and experiencing new things, not just sitting at the beach in oblivion (although that is exactly what you need sometimes). I’m glad I took the time to do this during the R&R portion of my expedition. I hope you do something similar during your next voyage!

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Location:Hua Hin, Thailand

Thai Cooking Schools – Best Way to Spend a Day

Cooking School Instructor

Market Visit with Cooking School

Among the many things to do in Thailand are attending day long cooking schools. After talking to locals, I cancelled my planned class at the Blue Elephant in Bangkok. Instead, I went to the Thai Cookery School in Chiang Mai. It turned out to be a great choice.

We went to the local food market which was just food and none of the trinkets found at markets near tourist hotels. There they taught us to pick the best of Thai ingredients, gave us shopping lists and off we individually went to buy our supplies. It’s an inspired way to do it, most schools just have you tag along with the leader and they buy while you watch. 

Armed with my newfound knowledge, off I went to buy pea eggplant, prawns, raw cashews, and Thai cilantro (which doesn’t look anything like ours). We also have an extra 20 minutes or so to explore, taste, smell, learn on our own. I found delightful little custards, mini coffees (oh Caribou, how I miss you), tasted varieties of limes, sampled fruits and peppers (stick with bigger ones to burn less or smaller to burn more!), watched a pig carcass get butchered, longed to buy curry pastes (they only last 3 days, so I couldn’t), and had an absolute ball.

Back at the school kitchens, they demonstrated a dish start to finish and then sent us to our stations to do the same. I had to leave early to catch my flight, but during my half day I made cashew chicken (different and much better than what you might have had in the States), yellow curry with pork, steamed fish in banana leaves, and big noodles with sweet soy sauce. After we finished everything, we sat down to eat our creations. I was astounded how good everything was. The curry was my favorite, the steamed fish was good but nuclear (I might have used a little too much pepper for my untrained palate), and I was a happy camper. I’m embarrassed to admit a rookie mistake, but my camera died on the first picture of the class. Fortunately, they said they would take some and send them to me, though. (Since I haven’t gotten them, I’m using their pix from their website).  All in all, it was a great experience I would highly recommend.

Big Noodles with Sweet Soy Sauce - Phad Siewe - ผัดซีอิ๊ว

Chicken with Cashew Nuts - Gai Phad Med Mamuang - ไก่ผัดเม็ดมะม่วง


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Location:Chareonprathet Soi 2,Chang Moi,Thailand

Flying in the Mountains of Northern Thailand

I spent a morning zip lining and abseiling (after I’d had such an amazing experience doing it in Kauai) in the mountains of northern Thailand. My driver was fascinating. Having spent many years as a monk in Malaysia and Laos, he decided to marry his wife and settle down in his hometown of Chiang Mai.

En route to mountains

I spent two hours with him driving roundtrip, during which time I taught him some English and he taught me about Thailand. It was among the best two hours of my whole trip.

Khamu Village entrance

Once we arrived, I was suited up and ready to fly. The guides were absolutely hilarious and kept me in stitches the whole time. I flew through 34 different stages down a mountain that was stunningly beautiful. My guides started calling me Jennifer Lopez (I think because my ample derriere bubbled out of my harness!) and since I was alone, we had extra time. They spun me around, took pictures of me wide eyed, and even zipped with me a few times. It was an amazing adventure.

Abseiling Free Fall!

I'm Flying!

Abseiling Free Fall


The feeling of flying through the air, arms and legs wide, is unlike anything else. While abseiling (dropping down a rope vertically) there were moments of free fall that must be like bungee jumping. All in all, it was an adrenaline pumping, enormously fun way to spend a few hours.

Lunch with Villagers

Afterwards, the villagers cooked us a lunch that was lovely. Vegetables stir fried, chicken and potato curry, some kind of vegetable in broth, and an omlette unlike any I’ve ever had.

Aussie students in my group

It was fun but I promise there wasn't a 'happy ending!'

On the way home my driver took me to a place where I bought a traditional wok. I’d asked him where I should go and he took the time to take me at no extra cost and even negotiated the rate for me. What a wonderful guy.

How lucky am I to have met such incredible people on my journey?

View of a temple

Information from the zip line company, Jungle Flight:
Situated at our location, Baan Nam Khong, lies a Non-tourist Khamu village at the end of the peaceful village road, which recently ended the populations isolated life. It is ensconced on one of Thailand’s 5th highest mountains, Doi Lungka. The village offers luscious rainforest views and sublime panoramic sunsets, in a climate that remains at a comfortable 18 to 28 Celsius all year round. Baan Nam Khong area is a natural and wild plant gene bank, the wildlife is abundant.

Nam Khong villagers have been growing tea and coffee since they migrated from Laos over 100 years ago. They also collect delicious wild Yang-na Tree Honey from the same giant trees we use for our zip wiring, using their special ancient method. For 100 years, the villagers have helped to conserve our environment by not cutting down big trees for timber

Jungle Flight is dedicated to helping Baan Nam Khong’s villagers improve their livelihoods and environment through our JF Project at BNK.

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Location:Chareonprathet Soi 2,Chang Moi,Thailand

Experiment: Can a Girl Used To First Class Go Backpacker?


Since I travel a lot for work, my personal travel is largely free. I cash in miles to fly first class and I use points for free hotel rooms. Since I’m a frequent traveler, I wait for planes in comfy lounges, get the best rooms in the hotel, eat and drink for free in Hyatt lounges…basically I contribute spending money and a sense of adventure.

View from Hyatt Bangkok

On this trip there were no Hyatts in Chiang Mai so I decided to embark on an experiment. I wanted to know, am I so spoiled that I can’t take a rougher route? Contemplating starting my own company and not having my regular creature comforts, it is an important question to ask myself. So for transport from Bangkok to Chiang Mai I booked an overnight train rather than a flight. For a hotel, I booked a guest house rather than a hotel, and I limited myself to about $30 per day spending (granted, which is more than most spend per day on the famed backpacker trail in SE Asia).

At the very start I had a few hiccups…my train ticket, confirmed online weeks before my trip, was no longer available. All they could offer was a third class ticket (which is even below the backpacker standard). So I booked a plane ticket – not off to a good start! It did get better, though….

Galare Guest House

My Room at Galare Guest House


View of River from Galare's little restaurant

I arrived at the Galare Guest House via taxi. We drove down a small, dark alley to what turned out to be an oasis on the Ping River. Galare cost me about $35 dollars a night, for which I got a comfy bed, my own bathroom with a hot shower, and great views of the Ping River from their waterfront restaurant. $35 is more than what backpackers usually pay, but it served my purposes well. The only thing I had a hard time getting accustomed to was the bathroom. The sink drained through a hole in the floor, which splashed your feet. Eeeww. Not as bad as an Asian squat toilet, but still a bit gross.

Clean Asian Squat Toilet I used somewhere

Other than that, I survived the backpacker experiment with flying colors. A lover of street food, I ate on very little money. I even shopped the markets and came away with bargains like $8 pearl earrings, $5 silk scarves. Also, the environment in the guest house was endearing. People are more friendly, fellow travelers are interested in your adventures, and there is a sense of camaraderie that I’ve never experienced in any upscale hotel. In fact, I might do this when alone abroad just for the interaction with people.

I met a lovely couple from Canada who were en route to Laos and stopped me in the breezeway just to say hello and chat, a couple from Australia who wanted to know everything about my iPad, and a father and son who insisted I had lunch with them. I make friends just about everywhere I go, but this was more than easy!

Maybe I can develop my own version of backpacker…first class plane tickets are much more comfortable after all. (Ex. My trip over resulted in only having slept in a bed two nights between Wednesday and Sunday, which would have been literally painful in coach). And I need more than one backpack to survive – toiletries, clothes, shoes (yes, I need two pair), iPad, book…it takes two bags.

What shall I call my version? Half packer sounds a bit weird – like a man with one testicle. Less packer, comfort packer, guest house guru…All I know is if it means I get to travel more and perhaps even have a better experience, I’m there!

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Location:Chareonprathet Soi 2,Chang Moi,Thailand

Chiang Mai Markets

The two most famous markets in Chiang Mai were within walking distance from my residence, the Galare Guest House. They are Warorot daytime market, and the Night Bazaar.

Pork Skins - Just Like Home

Mounds of Fried Meats

Fruit Stands Everywhere

Meat Stalls - with everything you could imagine!

Dried Fish Vendors

Market Hall

The daytime market has everything you can imagine, produce, flowers, seafood, meat, textiles galore, trinkets, clothes, shoes, and lots of junk! I spent several hours wandering around, getting lost. My favorite area is just outside of the market, along Tha Phae (the main street before the market) where there are lots of shops with items from hilltribes, jewelry, silks, antiques, and clothes. Once you get into the main areas, there is a lot of stuff that instantly reminds me of ‘made in China’ but if you look closely, there are some amazing things to be had….handmade bags, local silks and textiles, artisan silver.

Night Bazaar - so much fun!

Streets alive at night market

The Night Bazaar was the best market I’ve been to in Thailand. It was extraordinary. There were lots of trinkets and silks, which became repetitive, but the atmosphere was infectious. The streets were lit with twinkling lights, people are full of energy and smiling, the food section has better food than I’ve gotten in some Michelin starred restaurants, there are fish pedicure spas out in the open, outdoor massage areas, an area with tourists and Thais alike wandering about. This is what a market should be….I wish there were something like it at home. I’d never go to a mall or grocery store again! Oops, don’t tell anyone since I actually work for a grocery chain.

Chiang Mai has so much to offer, if you are considering a trip to Thailand, cut your time in Bangkok short and come here, you won’t be sorry!

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Location:Chareonprathet Soi 2,Chang Moi,Thailand

We Really Are All The Same

Erawan Shrine

After a day of temple sightseeing, I was hot, sweaty, and covered with what I liken to ‘airport funk.’ I’d hopped out of the cab just before my hotel because traffic was at a complete standstill. Adjacent to the Hyatt is the Erawan Shrine. Listed in all the tourist books and a shrine for Buddhists to give offerings and pray, it is a horribly crowded spot. After fighting through the throngs of people, I finally reached the side entrance to the hotel.

Adorable Thai Girl

Sitting on the steps was a little Thai girl about as hot and cranky as I was. Scowling away, she was none-the-less adorable and instantly gave me pause. Clearly she wanted to be anywhere else, but her family was apparently paying homage to Phra Phrom. I asked the woman with her if I could take her picture. After snapping away, I sat next to her and offered a red lollipop. Suddenly her face transformed with a smile a mile wide.

It occurred to me that kids are all the same at heart no matter where they are from. Good moods, bad moods, love of candy. Actually, that goes for adults as well. We would be well served to remember that…

Grand Palace Guard

Grand Palace Guards

Afterwards, in my room I recalled another incident from earlier in the day that reinforced my thoughts. There were young men serving as guards at the Grand Palace area. Of course, tourist that I am, I took their picture and gave them a big smile to see if they would budge. An hour later or so, as I was about to leave, the same two guards came running up to me. Not sure what to think, I obediently stopped and held my breath. Was I to be arrested for my scandalous ankles? Did they find out I secretly snapped a forbidden picture in the building where kings lie in state? Was something I did enormously offensive?

Nope. It turns out they just wanted to take my picture, too. They found it amusing that a western woman was by herself and wanted a picture with someone who had blue eyes. Ultimately we are all pretty much the same, just with different colored eyes!