JUST A GIRL IN…

adventures from around the globe

a SAXOPHONE GROOVE — June 9, 2015

a SAXOPHONE GROOVE

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Sax is back! Expect to be hearing a lot of it this summer, whether you’re visiting The Hamptons, various music festivals, Ibiza or beach bars across the globe.

I’ve been listening to Deep House for over half my life usually longing for its uptempo EDM cousin, Trance. But enchanting Asian beaches stole my loyalty last year; and sitting in Gili Trawangan, I discovered a new passion: “Tropical House”.

I’ll paint the scene. It’s October 2014 on a beach in Indonesia. Surrounded by turquoise waters, illuminated by the sun’s retiring rays as it sets behind the island to the West, I would sit with a cocktail in hand, the tide creeping in as it tickled my toes. For three hours, resident happy hour DJ, Ardie Anandamide, would spin the decks dropping mostly Kygo, Klingade and Thomas Jack singles from 4pm-7pm.

These are my first memories of Tropical House; relaxing to this chill vibe as I sat in the sand, behind a margarita as the tide trickled in. It’s a recipe for perfection on most occasions. Add a few troppy beats, and you have atmosphere.

Thomas Jack was credited with the term during an interview in May 2014 when he jokingly labled this Deep House subset, mostly because of its characteristic tropical sounds. The newly defined genre usually incorporates acoustic instrumentation and typical electro synthesizers as well as melodies, saxophones, pianos and pan flutes.

In the spirit of bringing a little tropical exoticism to the New York rat race this summer, I’ve curated a top ten list of my favorite saxophone tunes: “SAX Session”.

And, if Hilary Clinton wins in 2016 and Bill subsequently takes over as FLOTUS (First Lad of the United States), he can keep the public entertained by playing the sax. There’s a soon-to-be mainstream market for his musical talents.

My fantasy of the week? Bill Clinton collaborating on a Trop House track. This might be one of the most delightful things I’ve ever imagined. If he needs a break from the campaign trail, he should go record a sax solo for a dance single.

If Hilary wins the election, they could play it at her inauguration just like when her hubby played his sax solos at his first inauguration balls in 1993. I challenge Klingande, Bakermat, Sam Feldt, Thomas Jack, Kygo, Robin Schulz, Deep Chills, De Hofnar, etc. to get it done. I would love you guys forever and ever if you could make my dream a reality.

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BOWERY BALLROOM, LISTENING TO SMALLPOOLS LIVE — May 11, 2015

BOWERY BALLROOM, LISTENING TO SMALLPOOLS LIVE

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“Cheesy fun with a hot front man” OR “inappropriately bouncing to tunes with a 16+ crowd”. I can’t tell which sentence more accurately reflects the concert I attended at Bowery Ballroom last night.

I suppose it is appropriate that this was a 16+ concert, as tweens are the exact demographic I would expect from the synthy, upbeat, musically-standard songs composed by Smallpools, a four-man band formed in LA in 2013.

Even though my drink wristband distinguished me from most of the underage crowd, I thoroughly enjoyed Smallpools’s performance. It was a fun show, involving covers, inflatable killer whales and camp xylophone playing. In addition to his very well defined biceps, Sean Scanlon – Smallpools frontman – is charismatic, regaling the crowd with small anecdotes about the band’s creative process.

My favorite moment was Scanlon’s lead into ‘Killer Whale’. “Have I told you guys my whale story?” Anything that starts with a whale story has to be good, right? 

He told us that in the early days after the band formed, Scanlon used to Google search their name. Pages and pages of material about orca abuse was returned by the search engine, detailing how these poor creatures were kept in “small pools”. Hilarity in my opinion. The story was followed by throwing two giant inflatable killer whales into the audience. Eventually they made it back to the stage, pelting Scanlon in the face as he played keyboard.
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As part of his interacting with the crowd, he also talked of composing the song ‘Karaoke’ sandwiched between two covers: New Radicals “You Get What You Give” and Train’s “Drops of Jupiter” – both of which were played with uncanny perfection and had the tweeny crowd ecstatic.

I have only one gripe with the performance: Scanlon’s speech about putting technology away. This is a band that as a collective cannot remember a time before iPhones and the importance of social media, not to mention the role that HypeMachine apparently played in their success with their most famous song “Dreaming”. This is your reality, Scanlon; so accept it. Lighters have been replaced by iPhone flashlights (see below), because Joe Camel was jailed years ago to set the precedent that it’s not cool to smoke anymore.

iPhones are the new lighters. (You can even tell that that guy on the far right has just gotten a text message)
iPhones are the new lighters. (You can even tell that that guy on the far right has just gotten a text message)
Social media plays a role in every day life in 2015, and more importantly, this band’s success. Smallpools should be flattered – grateful, even – for all those Instagrams from last night. They asked the crowd for a panoramic snap towards the end of the concert too.

Overall, hanging with Smallpools for a little over an hour was fun and lighthearted. The concert finished early, around 10:15. And, I was surprised by the lack of an encore, though perhaps I shouldn’t be. (Just last week I had an extensive conversation with a friend about how annoying it is that encores are obligatory now. All the spontaneity has been lost, which kind of ruins the whole thing. I remember the days when Dave Matthews Band would jam at MSG for two and a half hours; leave for 10 or 15 minutes and when the crowd simply would not disperse, they’d return to the stage and play an encore to satiate the crowd’s demand for more.)

Could it be because of high school curfews on a schools night? Or, more simply, that this band doesn’t have enough material to warrant an encore and they realize it would just be gratuitous? The truth is, it doesn’t really matter. This is a young band with one album. Their performance was fun and their fans had a good time. That’s really all matters when it comes to live music at the end of the day.

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NYC, AT TERMINAL 5 WATCHING LORD HURON — May 1, 2015

NYC, AT TERMINAL 5 WATCHING LORD HURON

Rarely do I find myself at a concert where everything feels perfect. Perhaps it was because the average age of the crowd hovered around 28; so there was no pushing, shoving or annoying children on drugs tripping for the first time. Or, more simply, it could have beent the fact that it was easily the best looking collection of humans with whom I have ever had the pleasure of sharing a musical experience. But, eye candy aside, it really came down to the band’s performance.
The acoustics at Terminal 5 might be maddening, but even so, Lord Huron put on a spectacular last night. The dramatic lighting set the stage for the 1.5 hour Odyssey about to be embarked upon.

They performed a setlist to please any dedicated fan, incorporating top tracks like “She Lit a Fire” (from their first album Lonesome Dreams) which had the audience singing along tender lyrics as they bopped away to the soft yet upbeat melody. They closed out the concert with a the tropical cheer of “The Stranger”, a classic from one of their earlier EPs and finished the encore on a high with the fast paced “Time to Run”.

With time to digest new material from sophomore album Strange Trails, released last month, the crowd was wild for singles like “Fool for Love” and “Frozen Pines”. But, quite frankly, frontman Ben Schneider’s performance during the “The World Ender”  – a dark, hazy track that invokes visions of the Old West – was transcendent, almost possessed.

If you are not already familiar with the musical genius that is Lord Huron, you should check them out. You won’t be sorry.

GREENFIELD, MA AT LEFTY’S BREWERY — April 26, 2015

GREENFIELD, MA AT LEFTY’S BREWERY

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I have to confess, if someone had told me that Route 2 was such an exhilarating drive, I probably would have made this trip sooner. The curves, steep inclines and scenery are enough to entice any driving enthusiast. But, it was my discovery of Lefty’s Maple Ale a few weeks back that lured me to Franklin County Massachusetts.

On a Saturday, I set out from home after lunch to Lefty’s Brewing Company in Greenfield, MA. It’s about a 1.5 hour drive from where I live in the Berkshires; but I’ve been known to road trip for much less than free beer.

Inside Lefty's Brewery
Inside Lefty’s Brewery

Arriving a bit early for the tour, I started with the tasting at this young microbrewery. Lefty’s has seven beers on tap for tasting every Friday and Saturday and they change weekly. I made my way through the menu sipping and sampling.

My favorites were the Doc’s Double Whammy IPA, which, unfortunately, has not been bottled yet. And, the Lil’ Sticky IPA. This is their new session beer, which I learned means that you can drink several in one session because the alcohol content is lower (not that alcohol percentage has ever stopped me before). It was easy drinking, with it’s light and floral flavors; perfect for summer. The Graham Cracker Porter, one of their best sellers, is also delicious.

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Sampling some stout

A few tastes down, I decided to try the Chocolate Oatmeal Stout run through a randall of chipotle peppers. [N.B. For those of you who don’t know what a randall is, I didn’t either. It’s a double-chamber filter that you connect to a beer tap and fill with flavor-enhancing ingredients.] 

Unfortunately, I was not a fan of this stout. (I’m usually a fan of a little spice, but I don’t like chocolate so perhaps unsurprising that I wasn’t the biggest fan.) And while it seemed criminal to waste 2oz of this beer made with such devotion, I just couldn’t force myself. “We encourage experimentation here,” one of the bartenders told me reassuringly.

Tasting the Graham Cracker Porter as Josh photobombs me
Tasting the Graham Cracker Porter as Josh photobombs me

I have to credit the staff. Not only for creating a top notch experience but also for their passion and enthusiasm for beer. I suspect this is what has led to the expansion of a team of two to twelve over the past five years, since Lefty’s began brewing in 2010.

All I’ve ever known about beer since my first sip (when I was too young to publish on the internet) is that I either liked it or I didn’t. Unlike wine, where I’ve learned the process and industry over the years, I am clueless regarding the craft of beer making. So when Tabitha started the tour, I found her delivery entertaining and the content educational.

It's in these containers where the yeast is added to the wort and beer is born
It’s in these containers where the yeast is added to the wort and beer is born

We learned that Lefty’s only uses whole leaf hops as opposed to the pellet hops used in most mainstream beers. Apparently, using the former allows Lefty’s to retain the most organic form of the hop and arguably better tastes and aromas.

Fresh whole leaf hops
Fresh whole leaf hops

Lefty’s brewery was much smaller than I expected, but this makes sense since everything is hand crafted, down to the bottling, capping and labeling.

Tabitha at Lefty's $1000 self-constructed bottling station
Tabitha at Lefty’s $1000 self-constructed bottling station. Usually, two people work the station at a given time.

After the tour, I returned to the tasting station, where I knocked back the remaining samples from the tasting menu, and hung with these two weekend regulars, Stan and Pete.

Me with my drinking buddies Stan (left) and Pete (right)
Me with my drinking buddies Stan (left) and Pete (right)

Overall, this was a perfect Saturday activity with friends or even alone. The Lefty’s crew are fun and inclusive, not to mention the free excellent beer samples. If you like hand-crafted beer, you’ll be walking out of here with at least a bottle or growler, if not a case (as I did).

At the moment, Lefty’s is only sold in state and has not made it as far as the coast, with the exception of one shop on the Cape. This is partially due to the fact that all the products are delivered by one truck and it can only go so far. But out-of-state expansion is on the horizon as the company grows.

TIP: If you’re in the area on May 16, check out Lefty’s Fest. Dubbed “a beer Olympics” the event will include games like beer pong and keg tossing. A $25 (early bird) or $30 (on day) ticket includes live music, beer games and all you can drink beer from 2pm – 9pm. More details on Lefty’s site.

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to SUPPORTING FEMALE DJs — April 23, 2015

to SUPPORTING FEMALE DJs

My love for EDM continues to expand. And, this song METI is hitting me at every level.

Credit to Univz for releasing my favorite track of the year so far. Univz is an all female deejay and vocals group that came together in 2015. They currently have 66 followers on Spotify and 340 devotees on Soundcloud including me.

According to their website, the track ‘METI’ (Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) is supported by some major acts and favorites of mine like Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Nicky Romero and Swanky Tunes.

These ladies have something special. I’m sure this is only the first we’ll be hearing from them. Based on their initial release (which I’m hoping will become a 2015 anthem), I certainly hope it’s not the last!

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A MUSICAL MENAGE E TROIS — April 19, 2015

A MUSICAL MENAGE E TROIS

Oliver Schories remix of The Acid’s “Ghost” has been getting me off for the past week. Between the band’s smoothly tongued vocals and Schories’s steady cadence, I’m literally close to multiple climaxes. It’s dark, silky and slick all in one measure. Faultless.

The Maya Jane Coles remix is pretty damn good too. A bit more sinister with a thumping beat to lock it down.

I credit the discovery of this song to my friend and DJ extrodinaire, Ardie Anandamide – the resident DJ on Gili Trawangan. It comes courtesy of his Summer Snow set on Soundcloud, which you should also check out.

LONG ISLAND CITY, QUEENS — April 13, 2015

LONG ISLAND CITY, QUEENS

IMG_1318 After my first week home in Manhattan, I went to explore residences in Long Island City (LIC), Queens with my best friend during the day. Just over the Queensboro bridge, by car LIC is probably the closest place to New York, New York (unless the bridge traffic is backed-up on 2nd Avenue, that is). Growing up in the late 1980s / early 1990s in Manhattan, I had no idea that LIC even existed. All I knew of the area was the famous Pepsi-Cola sign I’d oggle at as my father drove up the FDR, weaving between cars and yelling “menace” at slower drivers as we returned from an outing to Peter Lugers in Brooklyn or from San Genaro in Little Italy. (Frankly, if I remember correctly, I’m pretty sure he was the menacing driver.) Now, large developments line the waterfront – a project that’s been going for about 12 years. As happened when the yuppies moved to Park Slope in the 1970s, hipsters moved to Williamsburg in the 1990s and bankers moved to TriBeCa in the 2000s, LIC is undergoing rapid gentrification. Now, in my 30s and ready to explore places beyond the safe, known limits of Manhattan, I journeyed to LIC to meet some friends in the evening to check out what’s what. I had to look New York: so I retired my carefree Southeast Asian beachwear opting for jeans and red lips instead.

Ready to go out..
I snap and send this selfie to a friend, which later comes in handy when I decide to write about LIC..

After agreeing to drinks in one of the elusive outer-boroughs, I flirt with the idea of driving for a few minutes. Accustomed to seeing the build-up of traffic that lines 2nd Avenue on most nights (particularly Friday), however, I opt of the subway instead. I select a route from my trusty Google Maps and head for the N train.

This is the first option that Google gives me. So I roll with it...
This is the first option that Google gives me. So I roll with it…

As is typical in NY, three R trains arrive before the N arrives. We pull out from the platform and two minutes later I’m in Queens. Unfortunately, now I’m confused as I try to catch the 7. Which direction do I want to head? Phone in pocket and too lazy to retrieve it, I decide: I’ve got this. I jump on the 7 towards “Queens”. I have a 50/50 of getting this right. I get it wrong. When I left the apartment, I was already running 15 minutes late. Now I’m on the train in the wrong direction heading to Flushing, which I only realize after the doors close because I have EDM blasting in my ears. With only a few hurdles, I finally make it to the Vernon/Jackson stop and walk through the doors of Alobar only 25 minutes late. Before I know it, I’m behind a $10 Four Roses Manhattan. This is delightful so far. As the LIC crawl continues, we head to LIC Market for dinner, where I devour perfectly prepared duck. Next, my companion (or victim) for the night and I break off from the group and head to The Shannon Pot. It’s an old school Irish pub that I’m pretty sure we are not welcome as I sip a Dewarts on the rocks. We observe local LIC and decide to move on in search of another local joint I liked the look of when I visited with my friend a week ago. We search and search, but my compass is off and we find ourselves in a sex shop instead. After a stroll through aisles of equipment and videos we depart in search of a toilet. We pass a warehouse with a sign blinking “bar” above a small metal door encased by an old brick wall.

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We nip in for a pee. What we find is a dark, speakeasy inhabited by hipsters and bartenders of a dapper styling. Dutch Kills is a trendy cocktail bar with dark wood-paneled walls and an extensively bottle-lined bar. The booths you pass as you enter seem intimately private because of the low-lighting. I spend an hour nursing a whisky on the rocks and enjoying the vibe.

Around 3:00am – satisfied with the evening’s discoveries – I jump on the train home. During my four minutes on the N towards 59th street, I can’t help thinking that LIC is incredibly cool. It’s still gritty and local; farm-to-table has not totally taken over. Fifteen minutes after leaving the platform from Queens Plaza, I’m home in my apartment on the Upper East Side. (This is faster than any subway journey from downtown Manhattan.) LIC is literally right over the Queensboro bridge (a six minute drive from dinners on the Upper East Side with mom).

All that said, as I consider a move to this fun little enclave of Queens (voted Lonely Planet’s number one destination of 2015), I can’t help but wonder if staring at the the famous Manhattan skyline makes me appreciate or long for my home.

PAI — April 6, 2015

PAI

IMG_2583There’s a saying: if you can survive the 762 sharp curves to Pai, you’ve made it. This small tranquil village perched on the Pai River has something for even the most cynical. Also, it’s my last stop in Asia before my return to the US, so perhaps I am already in a dreamy mood, soaking up every last drop of this journey, despite the smog in the air from burning rice fields all around. Between the fresh food, cold beer and cheap digs, Pai put simply is heaven.

I’ve known I wanted it to be a stop on my travels; and, I’m grateful that it is my last stop. I could – and, almost do – get completely lost in the whimsical life here, if a return plane ticket did not already have my name printed on it somewhere in cyberspace.

All the joy begins when Patrick and I – fresh of the bus – stumble upon Villa De Pai next to the river. We negotiate a deal for a nice bungalow (it is low season with the hazy overhang). Our house includes our own bathroom, a sturdy hammock and a very large and comfortable king-sized bed. This is where we will spend the next six days, and it doesn’t take long for the intoxication of Pai to enter my soul.

Outside view
Outside view
Inside view
Inside view with two inhabitants

On our first night in this riverside idyll, we make my favorite score in Pai. It’s a vintage shop run by Tik, an earnest guy and perfectly styled live mannequin. Genuinely, Tik has one of the best collections of army jackets and gear that I’ve ever seen. [N.B. The shop is two over from Buffalo Hill and across from Mountain Bar, which has a pool table if you’re feeling like it.]

Tik in his shop
Tik in his shop

The only thing that perplexes me about Tik is why he’s based in Pai with this incredible assemblage. But, as our friendship develops, I learn that he loves Pai – and I’m starting to understand why. Since basically all I do in Pai for the next six days is work over food, coffees and juices, I’m sharing my guide for ingesting and imbibing in Pai:

IMG_1222A RESTAURANT – Best cheap Thai noodles in Pai for 30 baht ($1). I believe it’s run by a mother-daughter-duo. They also do laundry, so lookout for a sign advertising both. Location: There’s no website or reviews, so find it almost half way between Walking Street and Rural Rd on the same road as Villa De Pai.

IMG_8235 GOOD LIFE – great juice and the first French pressed coffee I’ve had for some time. But, I have to confess, the fact that they charge for charging your electronics electronics (like we found at Art and Chai where the chai was neither art not good) really spoils this place for me.

IMG_1617BOOMELICIOUS CAFE – Delicious food. Literally, one of the nicest looking breakfasts. Personally, I stick to yogurt, fruit and muesli and it’s GREAT here! They also have good coffee, smoothies, juices and wifi.

IMG_2584 CAFÉ D’TIST – This is a delightful upscale cafe with good food, coffe and wifi

EDIBLE JAZZ – this is a great relaxed bar with the best live music I’ve heard in SE Asia. Before the multiple sets, they play old school jazz, creating a sultry atmosphere for you to sip your Chang or Leo.

BUFFALO HILL – Good place for drinking with descent live music.

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STREET FOOD – Walking Street transforms into a night time food menagerie of Indian, Burmese, halal and Thai delights. It’s not the best street food I’ve eaten in Thailand, but when dinner only costs $1-$2/night one can’t complain. I had an amazing banana/peanut butter roti that literally was one of the best things I’ve eaten in life. There’s a great “herbal fresh roll” vendor on Friday nights which can be accompanied by a side of potato twists (a hybrid of chips and fries). For dessert pick up a black rice pancake grilled and served with condensed milk, palm sugar and sesame seeds. Check out the fresh veggie roll lady a bit down the street (closer to the river), who’s large rolls are made up of fresh raw vegetables like cabbage and avocado. And, try the awesome fried chicken cooked in a vat of oil (only second to the fried chicken I had in Krabi) nearby.

All in all, Pai is a delight. Days of fun consist of working, hanging out, eating fresh and local foods and meeting some pretty epic people. It’s a good life in Pai!

Hitchhiking back to town after checking out some dried rice paddies
Patrick and I hitchhiking back to Pai town center after checking out some dried rice paddies
CHIANG MAI — April 4, 2015

CHIANG MAI

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The decision to head to Chiang Mai was last minute. I actually never had any intention to visit northern Thailand. But as time ran out on my visa extention in Laos and my departure from Asia wasn’t for another 10 days, we headed to Chiang Mai. I was excited for its famed delicious and cheap street food, and quite frankly, a big city vibe after over a month in an underdeveloped country. The city girl in me was craving the bright lights and all nights of this small and chic metropolis.

Forever backpackers, we arrive at night to Chiang Mai with no room booked and both drained from our Chiang Rai excursion the previous day, we need to find somewhere fast! A quick search on Booking.com shows a room at Walkin Guesthouse 1 nearby. We locate the guesthouse which doubles as a tailor on the ground floor. When we arrive, it is clear that we’ve interrupted the 16-year old boy receptionist’s gaming. Slightly annoyed, he sprints upstairs to the top floor to show me a spacious twin room with shared bath on the fifth floor. Tired, we ignore the homoerotic reading materials and sign up for one night. Anyway, the room is decked out with some rocker decor, which delights in our delirium.

Our rocking' room at Walkin Guesthouse 1
Our rocking’ room at Walkin Guesthouse 1

In the morning we check out Diva 2 on a recommendation, which becomes our Chiang Mai home for the next four nights. The owners are super friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. The room has a decently comfortable bed with a private bath for 250 baht (approx $7.70). [N.B. They have two more guesthouses in Chiang Mai with dorms called Diva 1 and Diva 3.]

I’m winding down my trip and focusing on some work, so instead of typical Chiang Mai tourist activities like temple hopping, which I’m sick of at this point, and going to an elephant camp, I sit in this chilled but trendy city getting to know locals and carving out my own spots. Here are a few of my favs:

I'm not sure the name of this coffee shop but it's in the NW corner of the Ancient City, down the street from Diva 2
I’m not sure the name of this coffee shop but it’s in the NW corner of the Ancient City, down the street from Diva 2

COFFEE
Chiang Mai is teeming with craft coffee houses.* Artisans boil, strain and serve tenderly cared for cups of dark roast to hipsters and hippies alike. Here are a few of my favorite spots within the ancient city walls.

Pakhinai Cafe: This centrally located cafe had been open less than two weeks when we stopped in. The coffee was good, the wifi fast and the staff very friendly. It has a top-end vibe about it and the clientele appeared to be well off locals.

Ponganese Espresso: Good, fresh coffee, but no wifi, which is slightly annoying if you’re trying to do work. Chilled vibe. A place for expats to meet up and chat.

Graph Cafe: We never stopped in because there always seemed to be a queue.

Street food noodles at the Sunday Walking Street Market
Street food noodles at the Sunday Walking Street Market

FOOD
Cat House: Fresh, organic food just outside the ancient city walls. It has some of the best wifi in Chiang Mai and appears to be a favorite among expats. Jacky, the owner, is lovely and has a group of loyal customers that greet her with affection. She employs a staff of Burmese ladies.  [N.B. Get the tea leaf salad and massaman curry (both were specials when I visited) and the banana/coconut/sesame smoothie (which became my morning potion).]

Ginger and Kafe: This posh restaurant serves innovative cocktails and delicious Thai regulars. I had an amazing pork curry, ginger house iced drink and black pepper soft shell crabs for lunch. [N.B. I highly recommend checking out the clothing store.]

Kao Soi Lamduan Fahrm: It’s a bit of a trek, but totally worth it for Chiang Mai’s most famous dish.

Famous Street Food: Try Chiang Mai spicy sausage (sai ua), bbqed pork on a stick, kao soi, any type of noodles cooked on the spot, curries, fresh juice, fried squid, banana spring roll (FIND IT at Chang Puak Gate night market. It’s genuinely on of the best things I ate in Asia!).

Muay Thai knockout on a Friday night
Muay Thai knockout on a Friday night

THINGS TO DO
Muay Thai: Everyday you’ll see flyers about the fights happening that day. Usually weekends have more international fights. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of contact sports and I found it hard to stomach a major knockout and a Finnish girl beat the crap out of a much smaller Thai girl. But, there’s a tremendous amount of respect and sportsmanship between the fighters which makes it more palatable and FRANKLY it’s a “must do” in Chiang Mai.

Tea House: For a bit of decadence, head to Flowery Home, a tea room on the other side of the river. The menagerie of Victorian styled china and wooden tables, combine with colorful flowers will transport you to the 19th century.

Massage: There are massage parlors everywhere you turn in the ancient city. All offer cheap massages (between 200 and 400 baht – about $6-$12) for one hour. For me, I particularly liked the massage at Lila Thai Massage. This is a socially responsible massage chain where they train newly released female inmates in the art of massage to give them the ability to reform their lives upon release.

Sunday Walking Street Market: This is a huge market within the ancient city walls, taking over several streets. You can buy local crafts and eat delicious street food, which includes all the usual suspects like noodles and meat-on-a-stick as well as more unique delicacies like, cream or jam filled dough shaped fish, dollhouse sized ice creams and a young coconut milk/yogurt concoction that had the texture of flan but the taste of fresh sugar-infused coconut milk.

*For more coffee suggestions, check out this awesome website: www.chiangmaicoffeeculture.com

CHIANG RAI — April 3, 2015

CHIANG RAI

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Patrick and I cross over from Laos to Chiang Khong in Thailand. It’s been a long slog through Laos for six weeks, working, trekking and traveling. The comforts of an easy and smooth border crossing are appreciated.

Soon, we’re on a seated-VIP bus to Chiang Rai – and we’re two of three passengers, which makes the journey all the more merry. We gaze out the window at the circular orange sun, the only light strong enough to pierce through the clouds and smoke percolating. We’re visiting during “burn” season of the farming cycle.

Empty bus from Chiang Khong to Chiang Rai...peaceful
Empty bus from Chiang Khong to Chiang Rai…peaceful

Arriving at night, we make our way to Chian’s House by tuk tuk (50 baht each) from the bus station. Chian and his wife are the most welcoming hosts, and we are chuffed with our largish room and wifi that beats any connection we’ve had in Laos for the past six weeks. The food at the guest house is pretty damn delicious and reasonably priced too. And, to top it all off, there is a pool in the central courtyard. We’re delighted by how easy everything is so far. This is Thailand.

Common area at Chian's House...pool in background
Common area at Chian’s House…pool in background

Chian is such a helpful guy; he knows everything about the area. [N.B. I highly recommend staying here if you visit Chiang Rai.] He delivers renting us a 250cc Honda bike for our one day of road trippin’ around Chiang Rai. We hit the White Temple, the Black House and the Golden Triangle at full thrust.

Our trusty bike
Our trusty bike
  1.    THE WHITE TEMPLE

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We arrive at the Wat Rong Khun (a.k.a. the White Temple) at the perfect hour: 11:30. It’s just enough time to see the interior of popular murals interspersed throughout geometric patterned backgrounds (I will not spoil the surprise by giving too much away) and snap pictures during the 12:00-1:00pm closure while the grounds are off limits to visitorss and selfie sticks.

Designed by Thai artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, the White Temple opened in 1997. Frankly, of all the temples I’ve seen in Asia, this one is by far the most astonishing for its glimmering beauty as spurts of pop art sprout out around the central structure.

THE BLACK HOUSE

IMG_2301 On the opposite side of town, we race to the other side of town to stop off at the Black House, hoping to take advantage of the closing hours. We arrive just before the opening to the public at 1pm, allowing me to snap a shot (above) of the entrance sans other visitors. I walk through Kositpipat’s vision: his home, dark and filled with dead animals, skins and stuffed alike.

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Bones and skulls are everywhere – no nook or cranny, not even the toilets, are spared the morbidity of his concept. The Black House acts as the reverse of the White Temple. Its scale and planning are equally impressive, while the themes are in stark contrast to each other. I wander through many structures, peering though our reflections into dark rooms that once house Kositpipat and his guests.

THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE

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Finally, we dart through the countryside up to the northern border which triangulates Thailand, Myanmar and Laos (a.k.a. The Golden Triangle). This formerly lawless center of the South East Asian opium trade, is now just a major tourist attraction with two museums in the vicinity both dedicated to educating people about opium. The point at which these three countries meet is nothing special. Perhaps, even an eye sore; flat lands, divided by two rivers and overly present law enforcement – at least on the Thai side.

Unimpressed with the smog and few boats leaving and returning we pack it in for the day. We drive back to Chiang Rai pelted by night bugs. Luckily, for the first time in weeks, we have legit helmets that protect our mouths from the inevitable ingestion of flying protein.