In the back half of our stay in Thailand we headed north to Chiang Mai and Pai. We had a lot of firsts in Northern Thailand. Ryan had his first experience on a sleeper train as we took an overnight ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I had my first taste of Khao Soi, which became my favorite Thai dish. And we both rode motorbikes for the first time!
Chiang Mai is an incredibly charming city. The Old City, where we stayed, is one square mile surrounded by ancient walls and packed to the brim with temples. Its also incredibly walkable compared to the much larger Bangkok. Because the canal and square city walls were flanked by wide sidewalks it also made a great running loop (something that can be hard to come by in hectic Asian cities). Northern Thailand is also generally less expensive than the coast or Bangkok.
We spent the better part of our first day just wandering around the Old City. There are literally hundreds of temples in this small geographic area. We visited:
Wat Chedi Luang. Temple complex includes ruins of a chedi from the old city.
Wat Phan Tao. The teak temple. Smaller temple made from beautiful teak wood.
Phra Singh Temple. Biggest temple (I think) in Chiang Mai. Several buildings on the complex, including gold covered stupa with elephants.
Wat Srisuphan. The silver temple. A one of a kind temple that is made from silver. Apparently the area it is located (just south of the Old City) was known for silver smiths. Gorgeous outside, but the inside is off limit to women.
There are a couple small museums in the city center. We spent about an hour looking through the Chiang Mai Historical Center. The museum goes through the history of the region chronologically and was a nice way to get out of the afternoon heat.
One of the most quintessential things to do in Chiang Mai is to take a Thai cooking class. We took the full day course with the Asia Scenic Cooking School. We made Pad See Ew and Pad Thai, papaya salad and spicy chicken salad, fried bananas and mango sticky rice, ground red and green curry paste, and rolled and fried our own spring rolls. I’m probably forgetting something but we left the day completely stuffed and satisfied.
Chiang Mai was also our jumping off point for a full day excursion to Doi Inthanon National Park with a trip to an elephant park. When you book these tours usually you expect to be accompanied by a van full of other people, but we lucked into getting the tour all to ourselves this time! I think it is a perk of traveling in the low season is that that is more likely. We went on a nature walk in the national park with our guide Nop and and then spent the afternoon feeding and bathing a group of elephants. I have some mixed feelings about the exploitation of animals, but we went to a park where they explicitly don’t let guests ride the elephants and they seemed to have a lot of land to roam. In any case, it was absolutely incredible to get up close with the animals and play with them in the stream.
The other thing I have to mention about Chiang Mai is the Sunday Night Market. Night markets in general have been one of our favorite things in Asia. The Sunday Night Market in Chiang Mai is one of the biggest night markets I’ve seen yet. It sprawls through the old city and there are so many items for sale. In addition to a lot of food there were clothes and lots of knick knacks and souvenirs for sale. It was quite an experience and I think not to be missed on a trip to Chiang Mai.
After 5 nights in Chiang Mai we ventured further north to the town of Pai. What to say about Pai. Its a really, really popular backpacker destination. That means the town and surrounding area is very touristy and there are a lot of hippies. The countryside is beautiful. Once you get a bit outside of town, everywhere you look you can see lush green rice fields and rolling hills.
Our first day in Pai we decided to hike to the Mae Yen waterfall. Out of the several waterfalls around Pai, this is the only one you have to hike to get to. The hike to the waterfall took about three hours and we had to wade across a river to get to the trailhead.
The trail follows a river upstream and criss crosses the stream throughout the whole hike. I bet we spent 50% of the time wading across the stream vs. walking on land. The last bit involved a pretty steep and slippery uphill climb but in the end, we made it!
The other amazing activity we did in Pai was learn to ride motorbikes. We rented scooters for the day from Vespai (the businesses in town are really great at making Pai puns) and paid a little extra to get a proper lesson. 30 minutes on the side road in front of our guesthouse and we were ready to go! There is a loop around Pai that hits up some of the super kitschy tourist attractions that line the highways around Pai. The loop takes only 45 minutes, so its a great place for beginners. We stopped at “Coffee in Love” (one of the uber kitschy roadside stops) and Pai Canyon before looping back around to the main town. We also biked up to a sunset overlook but only had an overcast view of the valley below.
In the end, I have really fond feelings about our short stay in Pai. Its probably less because of the town itself and more because of the motorbikes. There was also a really good burger place.
Ok, we've been in Laos for ten days and I am finally getting around to posting about our time in Thailand! Here's a bit about the first half of our 20 day trip…
After a quick overnight stop in Krabi Town, we set off for a relaxing few days on the Andaman Sea. Though not an island, Railay Beach is still only accessible by boat. The iconic karst cliffs that cut off Railay from the mainland are formed through the erosion of limestone and can be found throughout the region. We waited around the dock until another backpacker joined us to share a longtail boat to Railay.
We came just after the high season, so while we had more rainy afternoons, there were also smaller crowds and cheaper accommodations. The coast was probably the most expensive part of our Thailand trip. We splurged and stayed at the Avatar Railay Resort. A splurge for our budget was $45/night. In real vacation terms it was a total steal and the pool alone was well worth it. Railay is tiny (the walk from East Railay to West took 4 minutes) but there is still a lot to do. Beside relaxing by the pool or on the beach we rented kayaks and spent two nights hanging out at Kamar Bar where the wildly entertaining owner Ning had us laughing all night.
On our last full day, we went on a Phi Phi Islands Tour. We snorkeled, swam in an absolutely stunning lagoon and stopped for a photo op at Maya Bay where the movie The Beach was filmed.
From the beach we took a night bus from Krabi to Bangkok. On our first day we hit up some of the quintessential sightseeing spots like the famous temples Wat Pho and Wat Arun. These temples are across the river from one another so there is a ferry that runs between them every couple of minutes.
Our first night in Bangkok we walked around the famous backpacker area Khoasan Road. Right next to Khoasan Road is the street Soi Rambuttri. Soi Rambuttri is basically a older, tamer version of Khoasan Road. For example, Khoasan Road is where you go to see young drunk people get stupid tattoos on the street. On Soi Rambuttri, the 30s crowd is still knocking back Chang beers, but they at least get their tattoos inside actual parlors.
We also explored several Bangkok markets and night markets, visited the Jim Thompson house, and even went to a free Sunday taping of Muy Thai boxing at the Chanel 7 Stadium. My favorite meal in Bangkok was seafood barbecue at the Ratchada Night Market. It was basically a Thai-style Louisiana boil. They dumped a pile of saucey seafood on our table and handed us each a pair of plastic gloves. No utensils required.
Next up… we take a Thai cooking class, play with elephants and learn to ride motorbikes in Northern Thailand! Stay tuned…
After our month in Nepal, we flew on to our next destination. Singapore! From here we launched the SE Asia portion of our adventure that will take us to Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam through the end of August.
We arrived in Singapore on Friday, June 9th and stayed through the 13th when we took a bus a few hours north to Melaka, Malaysia. Coming from Nepal, one of the least developed countries either of us has ever traveled in, we had a bit of reverse culture shock landing in a big modern city like Singapore! I have to admit it was very nice to be in a place with sidewalks and street lights and very good public transit after trying to cross traffic in Kathmandu.
Singaporeans are a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian people and culture. As you can imagine, that meant the food was absolutely amazing and there was a ton of variety. We tried satay, chicken rice, noodles galore, roti for breakfast, dim sum… We ate most of our meals at hawker centres, which are food markets with lots of different stalls and types of dishes. My main strategy was to find the longest line at the hawker center and just get that.
A big highlight from our time in Singapore was meeting up with Gim, a friend of a friend back home. Gim was gracious enough to spend all day Saturday with us showing us around Singapore, touring The National Gallery Singapore and Gardens by the Bay, treating us to some delicious local food and even letting us relax and swim at her pool! I can’t say enough what a great time we had. Thank you, Gim!
Since we had such a whirlwind couple of days, I think the best way to share our experience is to share some of our favorite photos:
Our first night in Singapore we had dinner at the Lau Pa Set food center (satay and dim sum!) and walked around Clarke Quay and the Marina Bay Area.
View of Clarke Quay (pronounced “key”). We followed the lead of some other tourists & locals and bought beers at the 7-11 and chilled on the bridge rather than at one of the overpriced bars.
Our first view of Singapore’s famous Gardens by the Bay. You can see the domes and one patch of “Supertrees.”
Inside the supertree grove around 10 PM. The outdoor area of the gardens are free and open until 2 AM.
On Saturday we met up with our new friend Gim. Our first stop was The National Gallery Singapore. Lucky for us a new exhibit of Yayoi Kusama’s work had just opened! This is the second Kusama exhibit of our trip!
The exhibit was titled “Life is the Heart of a Rainbow.”
…and polka dots!
Ryan and Gim in one of Kusama’s infinity mirror rooms.
Venus de Milo covered in Kusama’s hallmark colored nets.
After the museum and lunch we headed to Gardens by the Bay. Here are the supertrees by day!
Inside the Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay. You can see the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in the background through the glass.
Gim, Ryan and me at the Flower Dome.
Waterfall inside the Cloud Forest Dome.
Walkway around the cloud forest.
Example of peranakan style homes in Singapore.
View from Gim’s balcony overlooking the pool. We took a late afternoon dip!
Chili crab! As a grand finale to our amazing day, Gim took us to the East Coast Food Village to chow down on chili crab, veggies, BBQ stingray, salted egg chicken and more! It was a delicious feast.
This is the entrance to the Ramadan Bazaar on Geylang Street. Thousands of people, lights and vendors selling everything from unicorn milkshakes to carpets and clothes.
On Sunday we went to lunch in Little India. Ryan enjoyed his masala dosa and mango lassi.
Umbrella tree art installation in Little India.
That night we enjoyed fancy cocktails from a rooftop bar. Here’s the view of Lantern, the bar on top of the Fullerton Hotel on Marina Bay.
Enjoying a cocktail overlooking Marina Bay Sands.
Ryan and his Singapore Sling.
On our last full day in Singapore we started out with a tour of the Tiger Brewery.
I was happy to see that Tiger has several solar arrays on their facility! I’ll drink to that.
Ryan and his inner tiger.
Tourguide Mark showing us the ropes. Ryan and one of the other participants got to try their hand at the perfect pour. Cheers!
The tour ended with a beer and 45 minute tasting in Tiger’s pub. Singapore is pretty expensive so these were probably the cheapest drinks in town!
After the brewery we headed over to Bukit Timah for an afternoon walk.
We reached the summit! This is the end of our pics from Singapore. The next day we caught a bus to Melaka and began our tour of Malaysia!
Sorry for the delay! We’ve been seriously enjoying our time in SE Asia. So far we’ve spent time in Singapore, Melaka and now Kuala Lumpur. More to come on that, but first here’s the second part of our Annapurna trek:
We made it up and over the Thorung Pass during the second week of our Annapurna trek. This was a really interesting couple of days because we took a 2-day sidetrip up to Tilicho Lake, made it over the pass, and entered the region of Mustang.
Day 7: Manang to Tilicho Lake Base Camp. After two nights in Manang we headed back out on the trail. From here we took a side detour from Manang to Tilicho Lake. Instead of hiking from Manang to Yak Karka (our next stop on the main Annapurna trail) we took a side trail to the Tilicho Lake Base Camp. The hike probably took us 8 hours (incl. breaks and lunch). It was pretty steep getting up to Shree Karka (a small enclave of a couple guesthouses on the trail) but we were rewarded with spectacular views. After the lunch spot we got to an infamous landslide area on the trail. We’d read about this on other blogs. While mostly fine, there were definitely a few treacherous spots. You can see our pics from this section! After such a long day, when we finally made it to the base campe, I rewarded myself with a chocolate pancake for dinner. I really wish I had a picture of it. Sleeping at this elevation and hiking to Tilicho Lake the next day also helped us acclimate before tackling Thorung La pass.
Day 8: Tilicho Lake Day Hike.Tilicho Lake is one of the highest lakes in Nepal and the world. The lake sits at an elevation above 16,000 ft. While the hike was fairly steep, it felt amazing to spend a day hiking without having to carry our full packs. The views of the valley, the mountains and the lake were absolutely amazing. I don’t think this is something I’ll ever forget.
Water break on the hike up to Tilicho Lake
Tilicho Lake Hike
Tilicho Lake Profile
Tilicho Lake. One of the highest lakes in the world at almost 5000 meters. Absolutely stunning.
Snow and ice feeding Tilicho Lake. We witnessed 2 small avalanches in the distance while at the lake.
Day 9: Tilicho Lake Base Camp – Yak Karka. Fortunately we did not have to trek all the way back to Manang to get back on the main Annapurna trail. From base camp we backtracked through the landslide area again (how fun!) and stopped for lunch at the same restaurant in Shree Karka. From there we were able to take a new path on to the village of Yak Karka, cutting over to a new section of trail. I don’t have pics from this section because, to be honest, I was pretty exhausted. The village of Yak Karka is quaint and one of the last real settlements we went through until we hiked to the other side of the pass. Fun fact: At this elevation hot showers aren’t really available!
Day 10: Yak Karka – Thorong Phedi. Yak Karka to Thorung Phedi is a relatively short day. At this elevation, you should only gain so much elevation in one day to avoid feeling sick. At this point there are two sleeping options before tackling the pass. You can sleep at Thorung Phedi or Thorung High Camp. High Camp is about an hour or so past Phedi and there is a very steep climb between the two. The benefit to continuing on is that you can start your ascent with a bit of a head start the next day. The downside is its colder at high camp and your quality of sleep with probably be diminished. We decided to stay at Thorung Phedi for the night. The food here is actually decent! Better than I expected. We had soup, spring rolls, lots of tea and a tomato pasta dish for dinner. The vibe here was also the most backpacker-y/hippy-dippy so far because its not an actual village where Nepalese live but instead just an outpost on the trek.
Day 11: Thorong Phedi – Thorong La – Muktinath. Today was the big day! We got a very early start at 4:30 AM with a breakfast of cinnamon rolls, boiled eggs and tea. There were actually really good baked goods up here. The most difficult part of the day physically was the first hour or so getting from Thorong Phedi to High Camp. From there it was a few more hours to reach the pass, but the grade was much more gradual. The weather was incredibly foggy and overcast and so it was difficult to see more than a few yards ahead at a time. But we finally made it to Thorong La! It felt like an incredible achievement. For me, mentally, the more difficult part of the day was getting down to the village of Muktinath. I think I had a lot of adrenaline flowing to get me over the high point and then it all vanished as we started making our way down. I’m sure a touch of altitude sickness played a part too. It felt like it took forever to get to Muktinath. It also didn’t help that we were still shrouded in fog. Once we broke through you could see the layer of fog hanging over the mountains and then the sun shining on the lower villages. Muktinath is a really interesting town because its the site to several important Buddhist and Hindu temples. Lots of Indian folks make a pilgrimage here. It was really interesting to see a lot of tourists and pilgrims around when for days we’d only seen locals or other trekkers.
Day 12: Muktinath – Kagbeni. The next day we walked along the road from Muktinath through the town of Jarkhot to Kagbeni. Kagbeni is an incredible village. Its medieval, decently large, has a large monastery and beautiful views of the Mustang region. Mustang is more desert-like than Manang (the region we were in before crossing over the Thorung Pass). Kagbeni is also the entryway to Upper Mustang, which is a restricted region in Nepal. To trek further into Upper Mustang you need a guide and a special permit that runs $50 USD/day/person. We were really excited to stay in Kagbeni to get just a taste of Mustang and its certainly an area I would return to. Upper Mustang is formerly the Lo Kingdom and was off limits to foreigners until 1992. Because of this its cultural heritage is incredibly well maintained. Very Tibetan.
The other big draw of Kagbeni is the Yac Donald’s! Ryan had read about this restaurant online and we had even heard a few positive reviews from others on the trail so we were very excited to eat here. The food did not disappoint! We ended up staying at the guesthouse attached to Yac Donald’s and had yak burgers with cheese for lunch and dinner. Kagbeni was a bit more expensive than some fo the other villages we have stayed in. For example, our room at the hotel was 500 rupees (or $5 USD). It was actually a very nice place and we had a private bathroom with a shower attached to our room. Comparatively, many of our guesthouses in Manang did not charge for the room itself (assuming we ate dinner and breakfast there) or were only $2 or $3.
Day 13: Kagbeni – Marpha. Today we planned to trek to the village of Marpha where we would have a rest day. The day started out great as this was supposed to be a pretty light day or hiking. However, in this area, most of the trek is along the road, which is not as enjoyable as hiking on a trail. We had the idea to try and find the alternate trail on the other side of the river for a more scenic hike. This did not go well. After four extra hours of losing the trail, backtracking, finding the trail, finding out that the trail had been washed out, backtracking again, we had to give up and go back to the road. Of course at this point it started raining and our spirits were low. Luckily, once we’d gotten ourselves going the right way, we ran into a lovely Scottish fellow named Colin. His company could not have come at a better time! We finished walking to the village of Jomsom with him and his company was entertaining and diverting. Jomsom is a relatively large village as it is a transit hub and there is an airport here. It didn’t seem like the most pleasant village, so I would recommend continuing on to Marpha, which is incredibly charming.
Day 14: Rest day in Marpha. It was so nice to spend a day relaxing in Marpha! We wandered around town, we did laundry, we drank the local brandy. Marpha is known for its apple orchards and so apple cider, apple juice and apple brandy are all local. Ryan also tried apricot brandy, which was very good.
Day 15: Marpha to Ghasa. Pretty uneventful day. Right after Marpha there is a Tibetan village where people settled after the Chinese annexation of Tibet.
Yak head seen in Tibetan village outside of Marpha.
Day 16: Ghasa to Tatopani. In Nepalese the words tato and pani literally mean hot water. Tatopani has hot springs! We settled into a charming little guesthouse right by the hot springs that seemed very popular with trekkers and went out to enjoy the hot springs pools. The water was super hot and felt amazing after over 2 weeks trekking. At the hot springs we also met three Nepalese guys on a mini vacation. They were so nice and we sat with them for a few hours enjoying some beers and chatting. It was super fun to talk to them about Nepal, the US, look at pictures of their kids and just hang out. We had a great time!
Day 17: Ghorepani failure, back to Tatopani. Our original intent was to walk the entire Annapurna Circuit trek, which ends in a village called Nayapul. Our plan was to trek to the village of Ghorepani on this day, get up early the next day to hike up Poon Hill (known as a wonderful view point) and then onto the end. However, to get to Ghorepani you have to hike up some major hills. We were back in the humid forest area and at this time of year its getting hot and rainy. It was just too hot and humid for me so after an hour or two of trekking we decided to head back, call it a day, and take the bus to the lakeside town of Pokhara the next day.
So, our Annapurna Circuit trek came to an end. This was one of the most amazing adventures. We met some great people and saw incredible landscapes. I would recommend this trek in a heartbeat.
Day 18: Bus from Tatopani to Pokhara. Another 6 hour bumpy bus ride! It felt amazing to pull in Pokhara. After nearly 3 weeks of trekking it felt incredible to relax in this lakeside town for a few days and take a load off.
A couple photos from Pokhara:
Sunset over Phewa Lake from the river walk
View of Pokhara and Phewa Lake from the Peace Pagoda
Its so hard to believe that in two days we’ll be flying to Bermuda for our friends’ wedding and kicking off our year of travel!
We’ve been talking about this trip for years, so our planned itinerary came together really organically. After kicking off our adventure in Bermuda for a few days we’ll be flying across the Atlantic (through Amsterdam and Delhi) to Kathmandu, Nepal. From there we’ll spend our first month trekking in Nepal around the Annapurna Circuit and heading up to Annapurna Base Camp. After a month in Nepal we’ll fly to Singapore to kick off a couple months in SE Asia.
Nothing is 100% set in stone, but here’s our plan:
May 3 – May 8: Bermuda (Lisa & Steve’s wedding!)
May 10 – June 9: Nepal
June through August: SE Asia! (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam)
September: Hong Kong & China (We’re planning a route from Shenzhen to Beijing looping counter clockwise through western China)
End of September/beginning of October: Trans-Mongolian railroad from Beijing to Moscow with stops in Mongolia
October: A couple weeks in Russia
Mid-October – November: The Baltics & Eastern Europe (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania)
December: Greece & Italy
January: Morocco & Spain
February: Fly to South America to start last leg of trip
February – March: A month in Argentina and Chile mainly in Patagonia
Mid-march – May: Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador
Mid May 2018: Home!
We appreciate any thoughts, suggestions, contacts in these places!
I have also thought about posting a packing list because I know that’s something a lot of people have asked us about and I see it is a popular topic on other travel blogs. But, I think it makes more sense to hold off until we’ve been on the road a bit because I bet things will change.
With that, we’ll try to post every week or so with photos and what we’re up to and do a recap of each country.
And now, back to packing. See you on the other side!