Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Soaked in Songkran

Wednesday, 18th April 2012; 16:13
Location: Hmon-Oon Cafe, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Why: The soggy sassiness of Songkran

Songkran, the wettest outdoor party this side of Asia was one of the main reasons I came back for another romp in Chiang Mai. This three day wet fest is something every dirty backpacker should experience if they are in SE Asia in April for surely one will come out drenched and perhaps a little cleaner? Well maybe not, there's still loads of dirt in my crevices. T.M.I? Sorry.

For those not hip to Thailand's beats, the Songkran Festival is a 3 day event from 13th-15th April celebrating the Thai New Year. It conveniently falls in the hottest time of the year in Thailand and is a prelude to the wet season ahead.

During this time, it is a countrywide water splash for three days straight, no school and sadly, no alcohol:

But when you're busy Rambooing your way through the wet crowd, who has time to chug a Chang when there's a driving songtheaw target full of dry people a few meters away?

And why hold a bottle of beer when you can hold these blasters? Built-in fun and full-on badassness:

 That's right, two hot Asian Falangs fully loaded. Run, you cannot. Hide, you cannot. Wet, you will be:

On day one, we made our way into the moat for the madness that started in the morning until well after sunset. We couldn't walk more than a few meters without getting soaked or soaking someone(s). And all the laughter along the way surely gave me a few new wrinkles under the scorching sun.

This guy may have a tank of water but solo in a tuk-tuk, he is the perfect target for a wet douse:

Case in point. This female didn't stand a chance!

And I just love the expression on the girl with the hat: Oh yes, my next target...

On day two, we tracked down a bunch of couchsurfers, a motley crew from all over the world including a Thai expat named Pat, a website designer from Philly now based in Beijing and a dude who's building a travel expense tracker for people like me and Anna. Together, we possed over to the Chiang Mai Gate (south entrance of the moat) where we stationed ourselves at a local Thai business with a continuous water source. Perfect.

As the day went on, we bucketed, sprayed and chased passersby with ice cold water. Oh, we were cruel at times. With the traffic jam all along the moat, there were so many crawling songtheaws with victims inside, we couldn't resist the Couchsurfer Ambush. And ambushed we did.

Of course, we also got nailed by locals driving by on their pickups with just as cold ice water and gangs of Thais with impeccable aim.

What a street party. At the famous Tha Pae Gate (east entrance of the moat):

Taking an obligatory self portrait as wet debauchery ensued in the background:

By day three, we met up with the Couchsurfers again for more water blasting. Then we found a little reggae bar on the south side of the moat and suddenly we parked our guns. As the hot sun baked our skin, I was happy for the gift of a nice little doobie (or two) that's been missing in my life for months! Gotta love that sweet Canadian we met there, ha! Canadians and doobies, what a combo.

Of course, the munchies came almost immediately for me so I had to brave the crowds for the closest minimart. I didn't even get three feet out the reggae bar without getting shot down with a healthy squirt square in the face. Love it.

Of all the fun things I've done in my travels, I have to say, Songkran is tops for traveling to Thailand this time of year. All the more fun with my girl Anna, couchsurfers and of course our badass waterguns.

If you ever want to hose someone down in the best water fight party, come to Chiang Mai. Just make sure you are not completely defenseless. Make sure you pick up a badass watergun.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Tripping All Over Tips' Best Fresh Smoothies

Thursday, 12th April 2012; 13:07
Location: The Tea Tree, Chiang Mai Thailand
Why: Extra, extra! Read all about Tips' Best Fresh Smoothies!

Songkran Festival officially starts tomorrow but already I've been a water gun victim today. If my camera survives the 3 day wet mayhem, you can bet I'll have something to say about it here (:

In the meantime, there's the matter of a little smoothie stand that has generally kick started my days with a healthy dose of vitamins. And a nice serving of new travelers to meet every time I get into the queue for my fruit concoction.

Another shameless plug: Tips' Best Fresh Fruit Smoothie:

What is it about this stand that keeps people coming back you ask? Simply put, Tips makes the BEST smoothie this side of the planet. Period. Overstatement? Read on.

I first discovered this place inside the Som Phet Market over 10 months ago when I was being all hardcore Muay Thai training and staying at A Little Bird Guesthouse. Upon returning this time around, I sat down at the table and Tips looks at me unassuming. I thought there's no way she remembers me.

Wrong. She looks over and says "Oh, you're back. How are you? It's been a long time". My heart fluttered.

After that, I proclaimed eternal loyalty to her smoothies.

I mean, look at this mountain of heavenliness?

The magic happens between her knife and skillful hands. Here, Tips creating a powerful bowl of muesli for a lucky patron:

And the lucky patron goes to....pretty brunette!

With the myriad of fruits to choose from, one can leisurely ponder the endless combinations while waiting in the queue. And when you have decided on what you want, Tips will only then literally cut up your order to be fresh-off-the-blender. There are no pre-cuts sitting in a plastic cup at this stand. Oh no. The only drink you'll ever get is one that is so damned fresh, each sip from the very first to the last drop, will be like BAM!

An overstatement? Oh no my friend, oh no.

Yesterday, Yves decided on a BBY: Banana-Beet-Yoghourt. When it came and we each took a sip, it was a party in our mouths. Then we cleverly came up with BABY: Banana-Apple-Beet-Yoghourt. Today, he placed the order, she whipped it up and I nearly fell over my seat after one sip. A drink of epic proportions?

Mais bien sur.

An overstatement? Mais non, mes amis, mais non.

Despite the endless combinations, I'm still a faithful Mango-Beet-Lime devotee. Wouldn't you if you were drinking this colour?

The travelers who keep coming back know how special this lady and her fruit shakes are. I have spoken to many who have told me tales of discovering this place last month, last year and years ago. And have come back to Chiang Mai for this reason. Not gonna lie, I paid a little extra to fly straight from KUL to CNX, skipping BKK just so I could get here faster.

Faster to Tips' Best Fresh Smoothies. Oh yes. It is that good.

And yes, I am soooo plugging this little gem. So buy your one way ticket to somewhere far. Chiang Mai far.

And don't forget to make a pit stop here. You too will find yourself tripping all over Tips' Best Fresh Smoothies.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

A Tree For Tea

Tuesday, 10th April 2012; 17:58
Location: The Tea Tree, Chiang Mai Thailand
Why: A Dutch. A Chinese. And an Austrian inside a Tea Tree. Check it!

Thievery Corporation's The State of The Union (Rewound) is blasting enthusiastically on my headphones from the weary lil netbook that is The Acer Aspire One. As I sit Buddha style in my latest and greatest new discovery, I will try my best to describe this little gem of a place that is mere meters from my guesthouse.

This morning, I sauntered leisurely over to my favourite smoothie lady inside the Som Phet Market (that's another gem I will post about, stay tuned!). While patiently waiting for my Beet-Mango-Lime godly creation, I chatted up a cute Dutch guy name Yves. We made small talk, actually more like long talk as there was the usual long queue for Tip's Best Smoothies, ha!

Yves mentioned about a cute little tea shop just a few meters from where we were sitting so together we headed up the shallow steps to the most impossibly chilled and unpretentious hangout I've been to in a really long time. This is almost, if not better than, dare I say it, Voyage Cafe! *gasp*

The Tea Tree. If you are in Chiang Mai and near the Som Phet Market, look for this sign, you don't want to miss it!!

As I entered the 2nd floor tea shop, I immediately felt it's positive energy from the surroundings. The shop owner, Laura, is a friendly Austrian girl kitted out bohemian style with ankle jingles, natty hair and a warm heart.

This place isn't so much a cafe as it is a chillout lounge. It is outfitted in straw mats, Thai cushions, low wooden tables and hippie mish mash decor worthy of stealing hours away from the day.

I sit comfortably at one of the wooden tables scratching out this post while the patron in the background is meditating serenely. Bliss? I think so:

Teas are obviously the specialty here. As I peruse the menu, I decide on the mocha chai. Laura prepares the drink in such a homely manner, I feel like I'm in a friend's kitchen. And herein is where I felt like I just discovered a rare gem; a wonderful little gift from the Universe. Oh, and she makes homemade tahini. Um, yes please!!

My mocha chai drink, made with love:

By this time, it is well into the afternoon. After our power smoothies,Yves and I were sipping delightfully on our teas and chatting away with Laura. I couldn't have been in a better place as inspiration flowed through my hot drink and trickled down my throat.

Laura and Yves, chilling at the shop counter:

Not only does Laura make amazing teas, pancakes and salads were also on the vegetarian menu; everything I love in a hangout. Yves and I copy each other by ordering the salad. Well, more like me copying him...haha. But not before a few games of backgammon! My very first time playing. Surprised? Me too.

Yves had the perfect travel size board to play on:

So my stereotype of a game played by retired Italian men in pants pulled over their pot bellies, was quickly abolished as this cute Dutch guy explained the game and we were rolling the dices like a couple of excited kids.

Then the epic salad and pancake arrived:

Yves is very happy to win backgammon and chow down on some vegetable vitamins. Me too. Not at losing but at seeing the black sesame seeds and peanuts in my salad!

Not only is this place ideal for great teas, feel free to pick up a hoola hoop. Or juggle some tennis balls. These two clearly know what to do here:

Patrons playing guitar, giving ayurvedic sessions and deep in conversation, ideal pastimes me thinks:

As I sip away on another Laura concoction, classic chai tea, the sun has set and a gentle breeze blows through the open windows. Thievery's Culture of Fear album is thumping in my ears and already, I cannot wait to come back tomorrow for another session of writing and numerous cups of tea from the Tree. Oh and I think Yves and I will be painting a tree going up the stairs!

I am sooo plugging this place: The Tea Tree. At two months old, you don't want to miss out on a special haven in Chiang Mai!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Taman Negara, Don't Believe the Hype!

Wednesday 4th April, 2012; 14:38
Location: Taman Negara Malaysia
Why: Not all 'must see' places are as they're perceived....

Wake up and go for a run. Check. Get interrupted by landlady while in downward dog. Check. The day is starting out beautifully. Okay, the afternoon is. But I did get up at a respectable 9am. Progress.

I was going to write about the flat I currently live in on Jonker Walk here in Chinatown. But I've only got the 'before' pics and the flat still needs some more lovin' to make it 'homey'. Like curtains for instance. Speaking of which, I need to go buy some fabric today. If you've been following my blog, then you know that I usually post pics to tell my stories.

Okay, I'll write about Taman Negara. Late last month, after checking out the At A Glance Art exhibition where Nora the Explora killed it with 4 pieces sold and a major commission, I met up with that funny Lemmon. Dan Lemmon. I met this hilarious British gent during the TEFL course in January. So when the opportunity to hang out with him in Malaysia came up, I jumped at the chance for more jokes, awkward comments and a new place to discover. Our plan was to hit Taman Negara, then beach out at Pulau Perhentian.

From KL, we took a bus to Jarantut, a small passing through town on the way to Kuala Tahun where the Taman Negara National Park begins. After 3 hours, we got into Jarantut in the evening and headed straight for the Pizza Hut. Very worldly, I know. But we were starving! Plus, it had been months since I've had anything remotely resembling a pizza so....yah, Pizza Hut. Don't judge.

After dinner, we stayed at the stuffy and lack luster Sri Emas hotel before catching a bus to the jetty for a 3hr (more like 4hr) slow boat to Kuala Tahun. Poor Dan, at 6'3", he was all crooked like a pretzel in the narrow boat.

But like a funny man in all situations, he hammed it up for a snapshot. That's his knee on my chest!

When we finally docked, we decided on Liana Hostel. Another stuffy and lack luster pit with dorm bunks. We found ourselves with another Canadian and German as roommies for the night. Cool, but it was tight in that little room.

Another example of being 6'3" and traveling in SE Asia:

Okay, so we tried in vain to do some of the activities that were supposedly 'must do' in T.N. But as a twosome, prices were more than doubled and we had no luck recruiting others to economize this overrated place. What we really wanted to do was sleep in the bat cave overnight and trek in the jungle; a RM230/person if there were at least 4 persons doing the 2D1N tour. No deal. Oh well.

So Day 1 was a write off. We hung around the pier instead, eating and drinking away the rest of the day. Wifi at Liana Hostel was RM5 and we're told was very slow. Fail. Liana Hostel staff - Fail. **sigh**

We decided to do a night safari by 4WD, yet another lack luster activity that was over priced at RM40 and cut short by 30 minutes, wtf? Well, at least our tour guide Rain was entertainment for us by virtue of having to answer Dan's many awkward questions. Questions like "Rain, what kind of herbal leaves would you recommend I use to help me poo? I've haven't taken a dump in 4 days". Awkward.....

In between Dan's silly, drunken questions (he had 7 beers that night), I tried to take some night shots. Not so much. Except this pic looked kinda cool:

Night Safari? Fail. But we persevere. The next day, we got ourselves sorted out and headed across the river into the park for the Canopy Walk. Another disappointment. Half the canopy was closed. But we walk it anyway. At RM5, I thought is was a rip off but whatev...

Here we are, enjoying a short ride into the National Park:

Entrance to the Canopy Walkway:

Look how excited we are to walk only half the canopy!

After walking a bit, we came to a clearing in the jungle with a view:

After these two let downs, we decided to pack it up and move on out. We headed back to Melaka where Dan spent one night and half a day. Then, pouff, like that, he was gone. Back to Chiang Mai. Oh well, Pulau Perhentian will have to be another trip. Hopefully, it won't be a fail.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

TEFL Teaching...From Two Months Ago...

Tuesday 3rd April, 2012; 13:43
Location: Chiang Mai Thailand
Why: New layout! And an old subject in a new post. Yah, I'm getting myself caught up...

Well my original plan to get up and go to the gym for 8:30 was a total Fail. The days start slow here in Melaka, no matter what my intentions were the night before when I plan out my day on my white board.

Not all was a fail this morning. I did a good solid 75min of Vinyasa on my splendid new mat! Finding a yoga mat at a decent price, let alone a mat period proved a challenge in Melakatown. At least I can now practice in my undies. Simple pleasures you know? So I'm all kitted out and expect to have a lean, mean wanderin' machine by summer's end. I hope.

Speaking of lean, I've decided to train for the St. Denis Semi Marathon in Paris (gulp). Have I spoken too soon? Maybe. Now that you've read this, I have to do it. Ahhh, nothing like laying down your goals and becoming accountable. Hmmm, once a lulu girl, always a goal setting girl....

Thinking back on the last few months, a lot has happened emotionally as you can see by reading posts on my grandma. In between all that, there was a TEFL course that I'd neglected to expand on. So here goes.

UniTEFL, an English Teaching course that I partook in in February has been a highlight on this little wanderin' adventure. It gave me the opportunity to hang out in Chiang Mai again, this time with my girl, Amazing Anna. I also met some interesting individuals and learned something to boot. All for the low, low price of 39,000Baht (aprox $1300CAD) - a good small investment in my future travels.

So what happens in a TEFL course Chiang Mai style you ask? Well, besides generous amounts of Chang and Leo beers, phad thai and rice egg omelets from the Omelet Lady, there were long hours of class instruction, emotionally charged lesson plans and actual teaching classes. Oh, there was also that dreaded Grammar test to pass...

A bunch of Falang Teacher Students hangin' out after a successful teaching day at a local Thai school. L-R: Jan The Enforcer, Amazing Anna, Delicious Davie and Steve, a fine Welsh gentleman:

As the course went on, so did our teaching classes which increased to two classes per week. And when I said emotionally charged lesson plans, I'm talking about the infamous row between the laugh out loud (literally) Canadian baldie and the prudish man hating (?) British lady. We were all under a great deal of stress. Oh but what a row it was! That one will go down in the TEFL history books I'm sure.

When it was time to get serious, serious we got. Lesson plans complete, we also rehearsed those damn lessons the night before teaching a class. Gotta say, it was a great exercise to do in the beginning.

Giving my students instructions on a game activity. Today's lesson: Clothes!

And the class where I famously (or infamously) ejected a little shit disturber. Oh the power of being in control!

Gettin' down with the kids for a Valentine's theme game of memory. My students were wonderful that day!

I gotta give props to all the teachers out there in the world, teaching is a tough gig. Much respect to my friends and sister who do it because they love to teach. Not gonna lie, I took this course as a means to finance my travels for when the bank account starts drying up. Also not gonna lie about this one: I'd rather tutor a really small group versus a full class. I'm down with my bad self yo'

And when I was teachered out, I'd bugger off to a table and got out the sketch pad:

After all our hard work, 12 diverse individuals and a cute TEFL instructor ham it up for the camera. That's Bubi being awesome in side crow pose:

After graduation, we all went to Blah Blah Bar for some drinks and shenanigans that had us heading into the moat for a night of more drinking, dancing and general debauchery. The pics from that night are also one of my highlights in this crazy adventure.

For example: Two Crazy Asians + Two Crazy Brits = One Drunken Grad Night Out:

This experience has definitely been a highlight in my SE Asia wander. For anyone interested in doing this, hit me up! If you sign up through my referral, I get money!

 Yah, I just shamelessly plugged UniTEFL Chiang Mai. Sign up! Pretty please?