Decidedly urban couple who quit their jobs and successfully backpacked their way through Asia for a year. They met Buddha, drank baijiu and learned to master the squat toilet. Now appearing in a new life as ex-pats in Singapore.

THIS IS PALESTINE!

THIS IS PALESTINE!

When I was 20 years old I spent the summer in Spain. One week a friend and I took the ferry across Gibraltar to the port town of Tangiers in Morocco.  When we disembarked there was a hoard of men waiting to descend upon the fresh faced backpackers on board.  They...
The Spectacle of Life and Death

The Spectacle of Life and Death

It’s appropriate that we finish our trip in the one city that most embodies the beauty, the history and the insanity that is India –  Varanasi. Oh my God, Varanasi. It’s impossible to translate the utter shock, dismay and overwhelming fascination that you feel when confronted with this place that’s...
Leh it on me!

Leh it on me!

When we mentioned to a friend that we planned to travel to Leh and he became super animated and excited for us. “Beautiful! Leh is beautiful. But it has one problem.”  In all seriousness he said, “Leh lacks oxygen.” Leh is tiny Buddhist city nestled in the Himalaya mountains. The...
The case of accidental pilgrimage

The case of accidental pilgrimage

That damn Beatles ashram was difficult to find. Instead of spending a lazy afternoon exploring the abandoned grounds where the White Album was written, we followed thousands of charras-smoking Shiva pilgrims on a 12km hike to the Neelkanth Temple. The road immediately turned into a dirt path heading straight uphill....
Crazy Train

Crazy Train

It was time to get a move on and since we had to hand over the keys to our rickshaw, we were faced with only one way to get out of town – train. Train travel is generally not horrible, but train travel in India is a whole different level....
Indian Insanity! Rickshaw Rules of the Road

Indian Insanity! Rickshaw Rules of the Road

India is a damn crazy place to drive.  At first glance it appears that there are absolutely no rules, it’s pure chaos. You quickly come to realize that there are rules and they’re purely based on size and speed.  You can pass anyone, anywhere, at anytime as long as they’re...
Top 10 Best Beers in Asia

Top 10 Best Beers in Asia

Since we created a ‘Worst of Asian Alcohol‘ list, we felt it was only right to follow up by a list of alcohol that we really enjoyed -BEER. We have a fine appreciation for cheap beer and all of these brews are incredibly budget-friendly, readily available and taste mildly of...
Stone Sober in Asia (NOT REALLY)

Stone Sober in Asia (NOT REALLY)

As we’re getting ready for the last leg and potentially deadliest part of our trip (racing a rickshaw across India! Huzzah!) there are a few things that I want to reflect upon, notably how many incredible hangovers we have endured from the spectacularly awful alcohol found in Asia. Top three...
Solo scooting the Mae Hong Son loop

Solo scooting the Mae Hong Son loop

It’s pretty hard to tear yourself away from Chiang Mai, it’s almost the perfect place to vacation. There are fabulous ancient temples ready to explore, decent MEXICAN food and dozens of spas that charge US$3  for an hour-long painfully relaxing Thai massage. But I am not on vacation, I am...
Raw meat and Moonshine with the Akha People

Raw meat and Moonshine with the Akha People

After an entire day of mud-surfing our way through the jungle we finally reached our destination: a large, remote Akha village deep in the middle of nowhere.  And we arrived just in time. The entire village was gearing up for a massive party. A party that could rival any full moon rage fest...
Crouching Tiger, Crippled Dragon

Crouching Tiger, Crippled Dragon

Life is full of endless possibilities, one possibility that I have firmly ruled out is shaving my head and becoming a Monk. After nearly two weeks spent living in the woods, eating veg and sleeping with the mice, I can assure you that the monastic life style in not for...
The hills are alive with the sound of....

The hills are alive with the sound of….

“Buy from me! No! Not the same as one you already have. Same-same but different!” Sapa is a small town so high in the mountains that the streets are perpetually covered in a sheen of mist and cloud. The entire region, when you can see through the clouds, is simply...
Where is that damn spoon? 10 days of silent meditation.

Where is that damn spoon? 10 days of silent meditation.

After 10 days of silent meditation, I am now a lot more sympathetic to what Neo must have been going through when he discovered the Matrix.  That is to say, a shit ton of PAIN. Seriously folks, we are not hippies.  We are not new age, crystal-and-gem-stone healing freaks. We’re...
The opposite of a Thai Lady Boy?

The opposite of a Thai Lady Boy?

A thai man-boy with his penis hanging out? We headed off on a Malaysian nightclub adventure with our fabulous new friend William.  We’ve been in Asia long enough to know that ‘nightclub’ really means ‘karaoke bar’ and includes high decibel soft rock renditions of Britney Spears. William promised us a...
Adventures in Caving with Poisonous Creatures!

Adventures in Caving with Poisonous Creatures!

The caves in Mulu National Park are legendary both for their sheer size and because they’re home to an incredible amount of bat shit. During filming of Planet Earth, the film crew had to wade through hundreds of feet of bat doo — and you can watch it here! I am not...
Amorous Relations with a Giant Cicada

Amorous Relations with a Giant Cicada

Our trip to Borneo was meant to be a disaster. Chinese New Year had begun: vacationers were out in full force, flights were double the price and hostels were all booked. The Batang Rejang was dammed and the winter rain had flooded Niah Caves.  It was beginning to feel like...
Vinnie verses the Giant Bamboo

Vinnie verses the Giant Bamboo

In one corner, a 6’2″ human, weighing in at  200lbs, with full use of arms, legs and opposable thumbs, Ladies and Gentlemen, our defending heavyweight champion, Mr. Vinnie Lauria! And in the other, the contender, a well known brawler from the jungle, the 12-foot long Giant Thorny Bamboo. It was a...
Baby's got the (28) Bends

Baby’s got the (28) Bends

You know the feeling when you’re 3,500 meters above sea level and you’re stuck on the side of a mountain: your head’s down, mouth open gasping for breath, your heart is pounding, ears are burning red and you can’t manage to suck in enough oxygen to survive?  That, my friends,...
Latest entries
Welcome to INDIA!

Welcome to INDIA!

Yes, it’s raining during monsoon season in Goa. Shocking.

Monsoon Season in Goa

It’s more of a light drizzle than the downpour we’ve heard so much about. In between showers the air is warm and the sea breeze blows away any remaining humidity.

It’s so lovely, so calm and peaceful that we wonder if we’re in India at all! Of course, then we see a cow crossing the street and realize that this is definitely the sub-continent.

We’re gearing up for our big rickshaw race and in the meantime we’ve thrown caution to the wind, eating at every small fly-covered teashop, food stand and beach restaurant. We’ve shot back fenni and against all warnings dined on chouriço sandwiches and all manner of chaat.

Goa is a fabulous and we’re so thrilled to finally make it to India.

Have you been to India?  What should we do, what should we eat and where should we visit? We want your advice!

 

Top 10 Best Beers in Asia

Top 10 Best Beers in Asia

Since we created a ‘Worst of Asian Alcohol‘ list, we felt it was only right to follow up by a list of alcohol that we really enjoyed -BEER. We have a fine appreciation for cheap beer and all of these brews are incredibly budget-friendly, readily available and taste mildly of dirty bath water.

Bintang at the Beach

Top 10 Best Beers in Asia

#1 Hanoi Beer– After months of backpacking we watched as the sky opened and God shined his light upon us. “Go to Vietnam,” he said. “Enjoy coffee, bread and the best beer in all of Asia.” And we did. Hanoi Beer wins top prize because you can actually taste that it is beer and not lager colored water. It’s crisp, deliciously inexpensive and best of all, you drink while sitting on child-sized plastic chairs on the side of a highly trafficked city street.

Hanoi Beer is easily consumed in mass quantities

#2 Bia Saigon Lager- Yes another beer from Vietnam because, let’s face it, beer in Asia is utter crap and Vietnam knows what they’re doing. Beer Saigon is light, watery and tastes slightly of skunk.  Perfect remedy after a day at the War Memorial Museum.

#3 Singha – Oh Thailand! If your gorgeous beaches, cheap painful massages and unusually friendly people weren’t enough to encourage me to stay another day, beer served beachside would do the trick. What kind of heaven on earth serves beer in a coozie?

Enjoying the view with a Singha in hand

#4 Tsingtao – This Chinese beer (pronounced Ching-dao) was first set up by those scrappy imperialist Germans who paid for the starting capital with Mexican silver dollars. Thank God for those Germans. Tsingtao was later nationalized, repatriated, sent to a re-education camp and given a new recipe.  Today’s Tsingtao is tangy and drinkable with a slight aftertaste of industrial run off from the Laoshan mountain.

Enjoying Mao's favorite beer

#5 Bintang Bir Pilsener– The famed Indonesian beer. Famed because every English knacker and trashtatic Australian tourist owns a sleeveless Bintang shirt and proudly struts around just waiting to tell you how much fun they had in Kuta. As long as you’re enjoying your Bintang on the beach, far, far away from the club scene in Kuta, you’re golden.  The beer is tangy but mostly tastes of salt water.

Welcome to INDIA!

#6 Kingfisher – India’s most famous bad beer, ‘The King of Good Times’. King Fisher is skunky almost to the point of cringe-worthy but still manages to be a nice compliment to a delicious Goan vindaloo. The question must be asked: In a country of 1.21 billion highly entrepreneurial Indian people, why is Kingfisher the only thing on draft? I never knew that good times taste like crappy Coors light.

#7 Gold Metal Taiwan Beer – Grab a Taiwan beer from your local 7-11, walk to a night market and enjoy the cheapest, most delicious meal of your life. Everyday is a good day for Taiwan Beer!

Our Christmas Eve meal, not complete without Taiwan beer

#8 Chang Beer – The cheaper and more alcoholic but far less tasty Thai beer. It’s known as the ‘poor man’s beer’ and it’s perfect for the day when you realize the American dollar has sunk to new lows and your backpacker budget has lost a third of it’s worth.  Rumors say that Chang is brewed with fomaldehyde, and it does have a strong ‘back of the throat’ dead body taste. Also served cold in a coozie!

Beer in a coozie.

#9 Tiger – This beer is made in Singapore which means that the government brought in the best minds in the beer brewing industry, gave them thousands of dollars and told them to recreate the wheel.  Like most things in Singapore, it’s just a sterile immitation of what you can find in other major capitol cities. But it’s on the list because it’s great to drink while dining at a hawker food stall (the one thing Singapore does really well).

#10 Hite – Koreans may know how to drink but their beer of choice is surprisingly flavorless. I would rather drink a kimchee cocktail than a bottle of clear, watery piss. Of course, after a few rounds of grilled meat and soju, Hite is shockingly refreshing.

HITE-UH!

Other contenders

Bia Hoi- The freshest beer around, brewed just that morning and made to be consumed as quickly as possible. Unfortunately it tastes like water, contains very little alcohol and leads to a startling rise in sobriety. On the plus side, you’re meant to drink bia hoi as early as possible –  who doesn’t love kegs and eggs?

Bia Hoi - fresh from the street

Beer Lao – Rumored to be highly drinkable but barely remember taking a sip. Hidden inside many, many Beer Lao bottles is a nasty, mind-altering alcoholic substance known as Lao-lao.  (Lao-Lao is a potent moonshine that is often stored in Beer Lao bottles.)  Be careful when reaching for your drink, as you may chug from the wrong bottle and throw up on the table.

Dali Beer – Dali is the perfect Chinese town and a great place to indulge in a tipple. Unfortunately the only tipple is Dali beer, which is far tastier than the other alcohol brewed in dali – plum wine. Dali beer is best chased with a huge serving of dumplings. Of course if you’re an adventurous sort, avoid the beer and head straight for Foreigners street and hit up a Ganja grannie.

Hello Dali!

Budweiser – Why, dear God? Why must American exports be so stereotypically mass produced and lacking in all quality? I think Bud is actually made from the American tears we cry as we watch the dollar die a slow, painful death.

Sadly, The King of Beers

Stone Sober in Asia (NOT REALLY)

Stone Sober in Asia (NOT REALLY)

As we’re getting ready for the last leg and potentially deadliest part of our trip (racing a rickshaw across India! Huzzah!) there are a few things that I want to reflect upon, notably how many incredible hangovers we have endured from the spectacularly awful alcohol found in Asia.

Our first morning in Asia - welcome to Korea!

Top three worst drinks in Asia

Baiju – China’s moonshine smells of paint thinner and nail polish and derives it’s uniquely foul taste from added herbs like tiger bone, bat and ginseng. One shot is enough to make grown Irish men lose their lunch. Although you don’t see many Chinamen with facial hair, I’m sure if you took off their shirts you would find a furry beast.  This shit puts hair on any chest.

Baiju is the communist drink of choice. When Chinese business men get together, the Baiju isn’t far behind. And you are obliigated to participate. This earns the top spot as the absolute worst alcohol in all of Asia. Guaranteed hangover.

Tiger bone and bat in Baiju

Lao-lao –Lao’s famous whiskey doesn’t even have it’s own bottle or brand.  This potent mixture is homemade so it could be 5 proof or 100 proof. For ultimate confusion Lao-Lao is stored in Beer Lao bottles, so be careful when taking a generous gulp from your open beer as it could very well be a fiery mouthful of clear hooch.

Lao-Lao is served at any hour of the day or night.

Rumor has it that you must take three drinks of Lao-Lao. The first is foul, the second is less bad and by the third you’re dancing with naked hill tribe people and fucking goats.

I’ve seen this happen.

Down that Lao-Lao

Soju – Soju comes in a very distant third for worst alcohol in Asia. It’s not as potent as Baiju or as omnipotent as Lao-lao, but Koreans drink like dickheads. They are the world’s most efficient alcoholics. One minute you’re enjoying a simple beer, and the next minute you’re guzzling soju from the bottle, or roaming the streets of Busan with a plastic bag filled with soju slushy.

Korean’s don’t stop.  They will drink until they pass out, even if that means sleeping on the street. And this is why soju is so bad. You drink it in excess, excessively.

Booze in a bag - Soju slushy

Finally, an honorable mention, Mushroom Shakes – For obvious reasons, this can not be considered an alcoholic drink but it will make you sick as shit.

Drink too much and you’ll see skulls swimming out of the ocean (him).  Drink too little and you won’t see anything but your stomach will cramp for hours and you’ll sit on the toilet praying to God that your bowels will rid you of those vile poisonous fungi (her).

Tred carefully: Mushroom Shakes

Asia, it’s been real. Thanks for the memories, those of them that I managed to remember.

 

The Urban Hikers play Ping Pong in Bangkok

The Urban Hikers play Ping Pong in Bangkok

Warning: This post is sexually explicit, morally questionable and potentially offensive. If you are my parents or my parent’s friends, please don’t read this. Thanks -K

Welcome to Bangkok!

When I was a child I thought that ‘Bangkok’ was a dirty word.  At the time I didn’t know that the real name for the city Bangkok is:

Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit

In English this translates to:

The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukam

None of this matters at all because what you really want to know is:  While in Bangkok were you involved in the degrading, demoralizing, dehumanizing, misogynist, anti-femenist sexploitation of women?

Did you see a Ping-pong show?

To which I will say, yes. And it was a sight to behold.

A trip to Bangkok is not complete without a visit to the ne plus ultra of tourist ghettos, Khao San Road. The famed street of hostels and whores where you can not walk for 5 meters without hearing a man smacking his lips together, ostensibly the sound that ping pong ball makes when exiting a vagina. Who can resist wheezy little men who sidle up to you with an overpriced drink list and a promise of sexual depravity?

Not us, apparently.

Cheap! Cheap! Sexy Lady! Cheap!

We soon found ourselves exiting a tuk-tuk and walking down the tiny, raucous Patpong alley where you could pursue the market for a handbag, purchase some fashionable Ray Bans or pop into one of the dozens of strip clubs that line the street.

I chose to look at the handbags. That’s right.  We went all the way to Patpong, walked along the street and turned right around and went home. I just couldn’t manage to walk into a club full of bored bikini-clad women, and watch them place foreign objects into their hoo-ha.

Round one winner: Moral Compass.

Patpong, Bangkok taken by bridgeandtunnelclub.com

Round two went a little differently. Notably, I was drunk so it was much easier to walk into a dark club, order a 200 baht beer and watch a 75 year old woman shoot a pellet gun with her kegel muscles.

The club was full of incredibly bored young women who stood on stage gazing soullessly at the crowd. Together we all watched as an old, skinny topless woman hopped on the stage and without  any fanfare whatsoever whipped down her panties.  She didn’t shimmy or shake or dance, she simply stepped on stage, grabbed both sides of her red underwear and pulled them down.

Grandma had the hooha of a teenager.

She enthusiastically placed a hollow stick inside herself, took aim at the floating balloons and with her legs spread wide, shot a bullet and burst the balloon. I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing. Is it even possible to shoot a pellet out of your va-ja-ja? We watched a young guy from the audience joined her on stage, placed a balloon in his mouth and closed his eyes. POP! Yes it is possible and the woman had perfect aim.

I learned that there are a lot of things that you can do with your vagina, like open coke bottles!

I watched a man pull eight feet of multi-colored neon ribbon from a woman’s vagina. He pulled and pulled and pulled until yards of ribbon stretched across the room and gathered at his feet. I saw a woman use a straw to suck up tiny rings and gently stack them in a row. But the highlight of the night and the real reason d’etre was the ping pong show.

It’s exactly like what you imagine, except you’re HOLDING THE PING PONG PADDLE.

This I did not expect.  I didn’t realize that this was a two-player game. It wasn’t until a bright orange ball was bouncing towards my chair that I realized that I could either hit the ball back or have it touch me.

Please god, don’t let the ping pong ball touch me.

Although by this point in the night I could barely focus (having indulged in several courage boosting belgian beers) and my hand-eye coordination was severely impaired, I managed to hit almost all of the ping pong balls. Mostly because they don’t move that quickly.  The balls sort of bounced towards me rather than fly.  I assume that’s because it’s really fucking difficult to shoot a fucking ball out of your hooha.

And now we’re seen it all and there is only one thing left to do.

Tonight we leave for India where we will drive a rickshaw from Goa to Mumbai. That’s right!  It’s time for the nine-day ass numbing, death defying Rickshaw Challenge.

 

 

 


 

Human zoos and elephants

Human zoos and elephants

Four days on the Mae Hong Son loop can give you a serious case of raw-ass, but with scenery as gorgeous as what you find in Northern Thailand, raw-ass is a small price to pay.

Gorgeous views!

There are a number of strange and unusual sights to behold while scooting the loop, from elephant variety roadblocks to entire villages of longneck Karen woman. I expected to see amazing views but I did not expect  to find an entire animal kingdom on the road back to Chiang Mai.

The mahout’s (elephant drivers) couldn’t seem to understand my excitement at finding a parade of elephants in the middle of the road.  I threw my scooter to the ground and charged towards the giant beasts. “TAKE MY PICTURE!” I shouted at the guys who were walking alongside the group.

I also tried to befriend the baby elephant hiding between her mother’s legs but the entire group refused to stop walking. I guess they must encounter many overly excited white people during their afternoon strolls.

Roadside elephantal encounter

OMG! OMG! OMG! Elephants!

I didn’t have the same enthusiasm for taking a pictures of the Long Neck Karen.  The tribe is utterly fascinating. The women of this Burmese refugee tribe elongate their necks with metal necklaces, eventually crushing their collarbone and weakening their neck muscles to the point that they are unable to remove the jewelry for fear of asphyxiation. (According to some sources the women would be unable to hold up their head.) This practice is illegal in Myanmar.

Instead of living normal village life, these women are kept sequestered in a small section of houses where people (including me) pay to visit. The women sell handicrafts while dozens and dozens of tourists gawk, buy scarves and take photos. It’s a human zoo.

Long Neck Village sign

Long Neck Karen and Big Ear Karen

In between facing down elephants and losing a battle with my moral compass, I attempted to avoid the rain. I was not successful.

Seriously unsafe driving conditions

Soaking wet and in the middle of nowhere

 

Solo scooting the Mae Hong Son loop

Solo scooting the Mae Hong Son loop

It’s pretty hard to tear yourself away from Chiang Mai, it’s almost the perfect place to vacation. There are fabulous ancient temples ready to explore, decent MEXICAN food and dozens of spas that charge US$3  for an hour-long painfully relaxing Thai massage.

A common sight in Chiang Mai – Buddhist Chedi

But I am not on vacation, I am backpacking! I don’t need nice hotels, delicious burritos and relaxation! Instead of enjoying the soft life, I set out on a four-day adventure through the back roads of Northern Thailand. The Mae Hong Son Loop is a famous, tremendously steep and winding road that runs through national parks, hill tribe villages and into the heart of hippie-dom in Thailand. The 600 km stretch of highway is known as road of 1,000 turns and it sounded like just the thing for another scoot adventure!

And before the monsoon rains kicked in on day 2, I had a great time.

Mae Klang Waterfall, Doi Inthanon

Mae Klang Waterfall, Doi Inthanon

The first thing to get used to was driving on the “other” (ahem, the wrong) side of the road. I can barely cross the street with traffic whizzing by from the left, so learning to make a lane-crossing left hand turn was particularly nerve racking.

After nervously fighting my way out a surprisingly congested Chiang Mai, scooting through Doi Inthanon was dream. The national park is full of small Karen villages, stunning waterfalls and towering mountain cliffs. But the park map is bull shit.

After scooting for several hours, my first inkling that perhaps I was headed in the wrong direction struck when I noticed a severe change in both temperatue and altitude. The clouds has set in, it was freezing cold and I could see Burma in the distance. Instead of heading through Doi Inthanon park, I was heading straight up the Doi Inthanon peak.

Mae Hong Son loop, scoot

Steep and cloudy with a 100% chance of rain

Little known fact: Scooters don’t go uphill. They certainly can’t make a 2,500m climb. Second little known fact: it’s very hard to turn a scooter around on a steep hill.

I learned both of these little known facts as my scooter stalled 100 meters away from the top of Thailand’s tallest peak. As I attempted a dicey turn on a 90 degree incline sans gas, both the scooter and I fell to the ground, skidding down the hill. Luckily scooters don’t need much gas to go straight down hill and the park is peppered with hill tribe villages.

It’s an odd day when dropping in on the local Karen village to buy a glass bottle of petrol feels normal. Welcome to Asia.

mae hong son, doi inathnon loop

Just walk up and ask for gas!

Fill ‘er up!

I had a tankful of gas but I was nowhere near Mae Sariang, the next town.

The twisting roads were beginning to lose their appeal, they sky was ready to let loose and I started to get nervous about finding a place to stay. Although 70 kilometers doesn’t sound like a lot, it is, particularly on a scooter. And that’s how far I had to go.

Suddenly there it was! The Navasorn Resort!

Gross lodging along the way, part of the fun?

The manicured hotel in the woods certainly looked fancy and I had exactly US$25 (a fortune in Thailand but certainly not enough for gas, a meal and fancy digs). I didn’t have much of a choice when I scooted up and boldly asked for their cheapest room. After 8 months in Asia I was ready to bargain but I didn’t have to try. Instead the woman in charge led me past their fancy guest bungalows and showed me into a filthy windowless back room complete with an outdoor insect-infested squat toilet. For my added enjoyment, there were free used porn mags. The room cost 10 bucks – well within my budget though pretty far outside my comfort zone.**

I slept in my clothes without touching the blanket and woke up at 8am the next morning ready to hit the road. I still had three more days of scooting ahead of me and the rain was about to begin.

The perfect place for sexy time

** This is before I found out that porn mags in cheap hotels are par for the course.

There is no ketchup in Pad Thai!

There is no ketchup in Pad Thai!

It’s not unusual to sit down in a new country, take the first bite of food and discover that it tastes completely different than we expected.

Unexpectedly massive and delicious Dosa!

It’s shocking to taste just how badly we Westerners have butchered a recipe and created a less tasty, more fattening version or the original.  Here are some of our more egregious errors:

* There is no duck sauce in China. In fact there is very little orange colored food in Asia – including sweet and sour anything. General Tso must have served in US military because he’s an American creation. We can all cry fat tears into our third chin because Chinese food as we know it was created for us by Mao Zedong in a long tail effort to eliminate the US  imperialist enemy.

* There is more than BBQ meat in Korea. The cuisine also includes soup, rice, and even the occasional Chinese cabbage. Surprisingly there is one key ingredient that we don’t use in the US. Korean food includes a not un-substantial amount of added flavor from blood. Ox blood, duck blood, blood-blood.  In America we generally don’t use blood as a topping.

* And now I have discovered that Pad Thai is not made with ketchup and peanut butter. Somehow I always knew that 1,068 people that reviewed Osha Thai Noodle were as dumb as they look when they dine on a plate of neon orange, sugary sweet $15 pad thai and sip their overpriced ‘Hott Pink’ soju martini. PS Assholes: Soju is Korean, go drink it and dine on ox blood soup.

This is how you drink Soju in the ROK.

ANYWAY.

Way back in the glory days of 2006 when I started to enjoy cooking, I decided that I would master the art of Thai food. I failed miserably, notably because I used half a jar of crunchy peanut butter and ended up with peanut noodle soup. But now thanks to the help of the best cooking school in Chiang Mai, I have  learned the secret to Pad Thai!

A Lot of Thai's van

Yui and her husband picked me up in her VW van and we spent an entire day cooking my favorite Thai food. We shopped, chopped, and stir fried until the rain came pouring into our outdoor kitchen. Yui and her family are awesome! Her daughter threw a tantrum in her tutu and her son ate my spring rolls. It actually felt like I was cooking in a real kitchen for a real family.

But beyond the family atmosphere, Yui is also one fantastic teacher. Generally speaking, I am not a consummate stir fry queen, (I’m more of a soup and sauces kind of girl). To be honest woks kind of scare me. But I overcame my fear of lid-less cookware and since we had to use a Wok for all of the 5 dishes, I think I may have actually learned how to mitigate a smoking, burning stove top.

Hint: Vegetable oil is your friend. Keep that Wok well oiled!

Master Chef Kristine

So what you’re really asking is, if peanut butter and ketchup don’t make an appearance in Pad Thai, what makes it orange?  Let me share the secret – Tamarind Sauce!

Here is Yui’s recipe (it’s also in her cookbook and on her website). If you happen to be in Chiang Mai, stop by and learn how to make the real thing.  Yui is awesome and the class was a blast.

Pad Thai - I made this!

Yui’s Pad Thai from A Lot of Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai

3 tbsp cooking oil

1/4 Tofu (cut into itty bitty pieces)

1 tbsp Shallot – chopped

1 tbsp Garlic- chopped

50 g Minced Pork (Yes! Mince it! The pork should be in tiny pieces)

1 tbsp Fish sauce

1 tbsp Light soy sauce (Hint: light does not mean less salty it means light in color)**

2 tbsp Tamarind paste

1 1/2 tbsp Palm sugar (Palm sugar is nutty and less sweet.  This may be the place where we go wrong in the US)

200 g Fresh narrow rice noodles -or- 150 g  Dried rice noodles

4-6 tbsp water or chicken stock

100 g Bean sprouts

1/2 cup Chinese chive (cut diagonally into bite sized pieces)

2 tbsp Ground Roasted peanuts

Optional and delicious

1 tbsp dried shrimp

1 tbsp sweet turnip

Directions:

If using  dried noodles, place them in water and let them soak until they’re almost bite-able. They will soften more during cooking.

Fry tofu in 2 tbsp of hot oil over medium heat.

Cooking school hint: Add the oil, tofu at the same time and then turn on the heat.

When the tofu starts of change color add garlic and shallots

When your kitchen begins to smell of delicious garlic and shallots, add pork and turnip. Cook for about one minute.

Cooking school hint: Make some room in the wok.  Push all the cooked ingredients to the top of your wok and make room for the noodles.

Add the noodles and then immediately add water. Cook until noodles are soft.

Cooking school hint: Email me if you want noodles that aren’t sticky.  This is Yui’s huge secret and I don’t want to put it on the ‘net!

When the noodles are soft, mix all the noodle with the other ingredients in the wok.

Add fish sauce, soy sauce, tamarind puree and palm sugar.  Cook for about one minute.

Add bean sprouts and cook until soft-ish, then add the Chinese chive.

When the Chinese chive turns bright green, move all the ingredients over to the side of the wok.

Add 1 tbsp cooking oil and cook the egg.  When the egg is nearly cooked (but still a little runny), mix in the noodles once again.

Turn off the heat and add roasted peanuts.

Garnish with a lime, cabbage and bean sprints

To Serve

At this point your job as a chef is done, it’s all up to the people eating your food to customize their Pad Thai.  Every meal in Thailand is served with the following accompaniments: chili flakes, sugar, salt, pepper, chili sauce and two varieties of fish sauce.

The Pad Thai that you just whipped up is probably less spicy, less sugary, less salty, less whatever than you expected. But it should be.  Let your guests add their preferred amount of heat or sweet.  That’s how it’s done!

Thanks Yui!

A lot of Thai and an Urban Hiker

** If you’re in the States, you may want to try Aloha light soy sauce or Pearl River Bridge light soy sauce.  Or if you really want to discuss light and dark soy sauces, join the intense conversation over at Chowhound! There is something for everyone on the internets.

The fast boat to hell

The fast boat to hell

Vinnie had escaped to Singapore. I was alone and needed to get out of Laos as fast as possible: everything I put in my mouth made me sick, the hotel was infested with little mice and the smell of goat had begun to permeate into the very fabric of my being.

There was only one choice: The Fast Boat.

Fast boat outta Laos

The Fast Boat in Laos has something of a reputation: it’s incredibly unsafe, uncomfortable and unreliable.  The word ‘deadly’ is thrown around a lot. At this point, I was willing to take the physical challenge.  I would survive anything just to get out of Laos.

It turns out that this journey wasn’t about survival, it was about endurance. The fast boat isn’t even a proper boat, it’s a flimsy fiberglass canoe that’s outfit with a high speed industrial motor. I waited at the dock as an after-market special boat smoked into port. The men threw my bag into the shallow hull and pointed to an empty spot that measured exactly one foot wide by one foot tall.

Photographic evidence of our fast boat misery

I looked in at my fellow passengers: seven fully grown adults who had forced their aging bodies into unnatural, space-defying contortions. They sat in pairs with their backs against wooded planks, their feet awkwardly turned inwards and knees tucked under their chin. Half the people were given motocycle helmets and life jackets. The rest of us were left to deal with what comes.

It’s like a freaking dirty joke:  A girl gets in a boat with a Chinese couple, two 50-year-old Korean men and a German backpacker.  What can go wrong?

Answer: Everything!

Smiling as the boatman paddles away

#1 The boat broke down

#2 The driver pulled over to the side of the river.  He motioned for us to get off and began to take the engine apart. As our eclectic group of eight looked on, the boatman dismantled a wooden seat, and used it as a paddle to push the boat away from shore.  Without a single word he had abandoned us on the side of the freaking Mekong river.

Stranded on the rocks

#3 Half the group decide to hike to safety.  After several hours of waiting on rocks the Korean man began to get agitated. He stood on the rocks jumping, waving and calling to passing speedboats. The only thing that I  – as a native English speaker – could recognize was “Hey-uh! Need Boat-uh! BOAT-UH!”

Kris and the German

The Korean man became so agitated and his garbled english became so compelling that he convinced all the Asians in the group to abandon the space on the rocks and walk to the nearest village. There was no way that I was going hiking through the Laos jungle and lent my shoes to the Chinese man had left his on the boat. They were too big for him.

The closest "village"

Now it was only me and the German. Several hours passed. The sun began to set. It became clear that we were NOT going to make it to the Thai border on time, and we were going to be abandoned on this freaking rock over night. And just as the German and I began to build our shelter for the night, we heard a familiar roar. Our boat was back. In it were the Korean men and the Chinese couple.

Spot the Korean (Hint: it wasn't raining.)

#4 Of course we didn’t make it to Thailand. We didn’t even make it to port. Our boat driver pulled over at a random location close to the lights of a small downtown. He roped the boat to a steep, muddy embankment and pointed for us to get off.

View from the boat

The hill was covered with mud, thorny plants and waste by-product run off. It was a real life Japanese game show:  The Chinese girl slid down the hill and wiped me out, together we rolled  into the German who fell backwards into the Korean. After 40 minutes of sliding down a 30 foot hill, we finally got to the top, covered in mud and nowhere near any semblance of a town. And for the first time in Asia, there were no Tuk-tuks.

The Korean man found a store, walked in, pointed to his Korean guide book and began saying “ho-tel-uh! ho-tel-uh!”

People in Laos don’t generally speak English and they certainly can’t read Korean. Instead of a hotel, someone led us to a local Karaoke bar.

I nearly cried. At this point I had been traveling for 11 hours.

Somehow we made it to town. A town without an ATM and we were a group without cash. The German and I, who had already been through so much, decided to share a room. A small, dirty twin bed room where the German proceeded to strip off all his clothes and sleep in a pair of bright pink briefs. After a miserable 12 hours of traveling and now having seen him nearly naked, I finally asked his name.

Get me the eff outta Laos!

 

 

Super Happy Singapore

Super Happy Singapore

In addition to momentous battles with jungle foliage and struggling to find inner peace, Vinnie has spent the last three months planning Singapore’s first Super Happy Dev House.

Huh? Work?

Jack Sparrow and his band of miscreants

People in Silicon Valley have a sneak peak into the cutting-edge concepts and technologies that are destined to change the way we communicate. Even better that just passively observing, anyone with a little gusto can jump in and take part. It’s an exciting place to be and a difficult place to leave.

Co-co-co-coding.

The stress of not working and being away from Silicon Valley was just too much for Vinnie to bear and by mid-January he was connecting with far-flung Valley-types who, oddly enough, all seemed to be based in Singapore.

And in typical Vinnie fashion, he went from casual conversation about Asia’s tech scene to becoming directly involved, and within days he was planning Singapore’s first hack fest, getting in on some early stage investing, and flying off to Hong Kong to judge South East Asia’s best new startups.

While I was hard at working scooting around Vietnam, Vinnie was planning Asia’s first Super Happy Dev House.

This is how we party in AMERICA!

Tonight was the culmination of three months of work; hundreds of geeks, hackers, business-y and not so business-y people showed up to discuss new ideas and quickly code them into reality. They dined, they drank and they developed technology that you might just find yourself using one day.

It was pretty freaking cool and, judging from what folks are saying, a resounding success. Huge congrats to Vinnie, Adrianna and Jason for throwing a kick ass party.

Kicking it old skool with MEETRO!

PS: Someone showed up in a MEETRO shirt.  Rep-re-sent.

 

Luang Pra-longed Sickness

Luang Pra-longed Sickness

There is nothing like a food borne illness from raw meat to ruin a trip to new country. We’ve become unusually accustomed to the toilet situation in Asia- the lack of toilet paper, the need to squat in the middle of an open room and the general inability to actually flush your waste. It’s gross. But you know what’s worse: a week of the runs in one of the least developed countries in the world. Laos. Damn you Laos!

Shit happens but it’s not nice.

But you know what is nice: Luang Prabang, a World Heritage site full of temples, novice monks and American standard toilets.

Wat wat?

Blue skies and green insides.

Wat!

Out for a stroll

Taxi in Laos

I spy Buddha

 

 

Raw meat and Moonshine with the Akha People

Raw meat and Moonshine with the Akha People

After an entire day of mud-surfing our way through the jungle we finally reached our destination: a large, remote Akha village deep in the middle of nowhere.  And we arrived just in time. The entire village was gearing up for a massive party. A party that could rival any full moon rage fest on any beach in South East Asia.  The village was just wired with electricty and this made everyone very, very excited. It was time to celebrate.

Birds eye view of the village

Very Excited!

The village was in a state of mass preparation. Pigs, chickens and naked children ran around unattended while men stood at large caludrons, stirring bubbling vats of fatty meat. The women, some topless, watched from the windows of their houses. Even the little girls were in on the excitement. They huddled around small huts watching an Akha village dance on the brand new TV and practiced for their upcoming performance.

I joined in.

Prepping for our dance

It seemed like the only people not getting ready were the village teenagers; they had something more important to prepare for – impressing each other. Akha people have a very progressive way of encouraging reproduction. Every night teenage boys and girls meet at the designated ‘flirting area’  to chat and get it on. The ‘get it on’ part is highly encouraged. Boys of  ‘getting it on’ age build love shacks where they can wisk away the girl (or boy) of their choice and enjoy a sexy evening full of pre-marital baby making.

If a baby is made, the couple marry.  If, after some time, there is no baby, the girl and boy break up and hit the loveshack with someone else.

In our Akha village there were dozens of love shacks, and the teenagers were clearly dressed to impress.

Love shack!

Akha ladies looking good for the men!

Looking sharp for the ladies - the local barber shop

The next morning Vinnie and I started out early. The rest of our group was hesitant to explore the town but we wanted to mingle. Within minutes Vinnie and I found ourselves at the village chief’s house right as he was sitting down for breakfast. He invited us in.

Breakfast was served on a long tarp on the ground. Small bowls were laid out with serving spoons. We weren’t sure exactly what the floating brown meat could be and honestly, it didn’t look that appetizing.

Chief saw us deliberating and took matters into his own hands. He spooned up a chunk of red meat, motioned for us to open our mouth and spooned it in.  We chewed slowly, trying to process the texture, the flavor, the temperature of the meat. It was RAW.

It was at that moment when I noticed the giant skinned buffalo head in the corner of the room. We were eating him. RAW.

Of course, the perfect accompaniment to raw meat is Lao-lao.  Moonshine. Laos rice whiskey. Poison. Chief was ready to celebrate and wanted us to feel welcome in his house; he began to pour shots.  Chief didn’t speak english and we don’t speak Akha but with a little moonshine you don’t need words. It was 8Am.  I was drunk. Vinnie was eating raw meat. Could the day get any better!?!

A Breakfast of Champions

Buffalo head in the house

Shots and a cigarette for breakfast
After breakfasting with the Chief we wandered around to see what was going on. And with our inhibitions at a drunken low, we were able to easily chat with everyone and anyone. Vinnie headed off to play cards with the men while I made friends with women. Both of us soon had our own posse of kids who followed us around town, clamering to look at a little picture book or laugh at us when we tried to communicate.

One styling Akha baby.

Grandma!

Vinnie charming the ladies

Kris and the kids

Akha Village

It was NOT a good idea to befriend the villagers.  Just as the Lao-lao was wearing off, the party was starting to begin; our new friends wanted to make sure that we had an amazing time.

The men who had spent the morning cooking buffalo and setting up for the party were now seated and ready to be served. Bowls of meat were placed in the middle of every table, alongside them sat a huge bottles of Lao-lao.  We knew the party began when dozens of colorfully clad young women entered the tent.  Everyone applauded and the drinking began.

The girls each carried their own bottle of Lao-lao and a small plastic cup.  They began at the head of the table, filling the cup with clear whiskey and handing it to someone, encouraging him to quickly drink the shot. At first we all took the glass, shot it back and smiled. But the shots continued and the girls woudn’t take no for an answer.  The only revenge was have each girl take a reciropcal shot, which she would spit onto the ground.

The world started to spin. Chief fed us more meat. We drank more lao-lao.

The Akha party spread

You will drink this lao-lao

Drinking with the styling teenage boys

No more Lao-Lao for Kristine!

We clearly were not in any shape to manage a jungle trek back to Luang Namta. When we were sober it took us ove six hours through difficult, slippery terrain to reach the village. Happily (because he was also drunk), our guide confessed there was a shortcut – a bumpy, unpaved dirt road that would take just four hours to hike down.

By the time we reached town the lao-lao had worn off, but the hangover from hell was just beginning. It was 4:00pm.

Drunk and happy

Jungle Trek: Leeches and Ticks

Jungle Trek: Leeches and Ticks

Luang NamTa in northern Laos has a reputation for being a trekking paradise. The one-street town is filled with hiking outposts, saloons, and a large variety of farmyard animals. People don’t come to Luang NamTa to explore the urban jungle, they’re looking for the real thing.

I suppose that somewhere along the way Vinnie and I forgot that we strongly dislike the great outdoors and that hiking is not something we adore. We came to our senses a little too late – three hours into a two-day hike.

Making our way to the jungle

It started out just like any other day: waking up in another new time zone, accidentally arriving an hour early for our group outing, eating spicy meatball soup for breakfast to pass the time. But the day did not progress as planned.

This may appear to be easy. It wasn't.

In Luang NamTa, foreigners are asked not to trek through the jungle or to visit local tribes without a guide.  So we hired a guide.  His name was Pet and he had a massive machete strapped to his leg.  I didn’t have to wait very long before discovering why he carried freaking machete. And why foreigners aren’t permitted to wander around all by themselves.

We began in soggy rice fields and soon found ourselves skirting huge swaths of burning jungle.  It turns out that, unlike in Borneo where companies seem to be doing the most damage, in Laos it’s the people who are tearing down the rain forests so they can feed their families.  Burning is the easiest way to clear the land to make room for rubber plantations and rice terraces.  It’s pretty sad all around – the people are so poor and the environment is being destroyed.

Good bye rainforest, hello dolla dolla bills

The smoldering landscape soon gave way to a dense forest with towering palm trees and a thick underbrush. This was not a leisurely hike through the woods on a defined path, in fact, there was no path.  Pet took out his huge machete and with sweeping blows, took out the trees, bushes and branches to clear the way.

Our guides cutting a path through the jungle

In the jungle there is no north or south,  no graffiti trail marker pointing out the path – nothing but green trees and insects and rain. We had no idea where we were or how to get out. Not that we could have planned our escape from the jungle, the ground was so slick with mud and discarded palm fronds that we couldn’t even stand up.

You couldn’t call what we did hiking.  You could call it falling, or mud surfing, or even slip-and-sliding. Whatever you call it, we spent half the trek on our ass, sliding down steep embankments or falling over each other to grab the nearest plant as someone wiped out into you.

Our second guide made me a walking stick

Occasionally we would take a short break.  Pet would stand at the front waiting for everyone to catch up, while the rest of us stood frozen, clinging to tree trunks, hoping to God that the end was in sight.  The end was never in sight, instead Pet would point out to a fruit or a seed and say, “Don’t eat this.  You be dead.” Once he reached into thin air and pulled back a huge colorful bug that our second guide held on to for lunch.

Lunch!

But it wasn’t the colorful giant bugs that we were most worried about, it was the brown slimy snail-like creatures that jumped onto your skin and sucked away as you waded through a sea of mud and plants. LEECHES.

After an hour of jungle trekking we were covered with them. Nasty, heat-seeking, blood sucking Leeches.

I hate them. I hate the jungle.  I hate hiking. And I have officially sworn off trekking in any form.