July and August – Film Challenge

Have you checked our FILM CHALLENGE lately? Photos for July and August are up but I haven’t had a chance to blog about them until now.

JULY

This was a pretty uneventful month for us, so when Sean got a new camera – the Canon Sure Shot Compact – we took a weekend trip to Ventura, popped in some B&W film and put it to the test. Here are my two favorites:

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AUGUST

We took so many photos in August it was hard to choose the best ones to post. We used three different cameras and went through a variety of film while exploring the beautiful state of Washington. Here are just a few:

35mm Canon Sure Shot Compact • Kodak Gold 400 • Aberdeen, WA

35mm Canon AE-1• Kodak Portra 160 • Seattle, WA

35mm Canon AE-1• Kodak Portra 160 • Seattle, WA

35mm Canon Sure Shot Compact • Kodak Gold 400 • Quinnault Rain Forest, WA35mm Canon Sure Shot Compact • Kodak Gold 400 • Hoh Rain Forest, WA35mm Canon AE-1 • Kodak Portra 400 • Olympic National Park, WA35mm Canon AE-1 • Kodak Portra 400 • Hoh Rain Forest, WA

Check out our FILM CHALLENGE page for more.

CHIIIIIIPS!

Chips are my go to travel snack. I love trying the different flavors wherever we go. Here are some of the interesting munchies from our trip around Southeast Asia.

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Basically cheddar bugles, but not as good.

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Sean’s favorite chips of the trip – Crab Claws.

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These were super spicy in the BEST way.

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Little chicken drumsticks. Didn’t taste like chicken though.

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Pringles makes Corn Chips and they are on another level!

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Nothing to rave about…but they would probably be good with dip.

My favorite chips were in Cambodia but I devoured them so quickly and didn’t get a chance to snap a picture (fat girl problems). I wish I knew what they were called!!!

Myanmar also had amazing homemade chips that were sold on the side of the road. They made the 5-10 hour bus trips bearable. I still dream about them sometimes…

More Singapore

MARINA BAY SANDS RESORT

A state of the art luxury resort with four main attractions – The Marina Bay Sands Hotel, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, and the Art Science Museum.

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The hotel is topped by a huge SkyPark which rests on the three, 55 story towers. We checked out the lobby area of the hotel but didn’t get to see much more. You must be a guest to get up to the Sands SkyPark and swim in their famous infinity pool.  There is an observation deck for non-guests but we decided against it since the price was too steep ($22 Singaporean Dollars per person). 

The shopping center is reminiscent of a ritzy Vegas hotel with high-end stores, five star restaurants, a movie theatre, ice skating rink, and even a casino. In order to save money, we stuck to window shopping and dining at the foodcourt. 

Most of our time was spent in the gardens and at the museum. 

GARDENS BY THE BAY

This magnificently vast, out of this world garden comprises every shade of green with vibrant pops of rainbow colors. We spent an entire day getting lost in the surreal oasis. From the giant trees made of steel to the massive glass domes, we were taken away to another world, a place we had only ever seen in sci-fi flicks.

OCBC SKYWAY/SUPERTREE GROVE

Each Supertree in the grove is made up of a concrete core surrounded by a steel frame draped in a variety of plants and topped with an inverted umbrella canopy in the shape of branches. There are 11 in total, all embedded with an environmentally sustainable function. Some harvest solar energy while others serve as air exhaust receptacles. Genuine  trees of the future.

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Suspended within the Supertree Grove, 72 feet above the ground, is the OCBC Skyway. Getting up to the Skyway proved to be a daunting task. For good reason, the bridge would close at the onset of dark clouds or the sound of thunder. We tried twice in one day, but the fickle Singapore weather denied us the opportunity. Finally, on our last day in Singapore, we succeeded.

When we reached the Skyway, I wasn’t expecting my fear of heights to set in so dramatically. From below, the bridge seemed sturdy and safe. But looks are decieving and the view from the top produced anxiety and sweaty palms. I held tight to the rails, carefully putting one foot in front of the other, and tried my best not to look down when the bridge slightly shook.

There is a Garden Rhapsody show that takes place a couple times each evening in the Supertree Grove. We decided to check it out (especially because it was free). In the spirit of the holidays, the tree lights sparkled and moved to the sounds of yuletide symphonies and Christmas classics (including Mariah’s All I Want For Christmas Is You).

 

FLOWER DOME

There are two, gigantic domes within Gardens by the Bay. $28 Singaporean Dollars buys you entry into both.

We began with the largest glass greenhouse in the world – the Flower Dome, coined as the world of perpetual spring, where unique plants grow. The cost of entry was well worth the cool 75 degree temperatures inside. The stunning array of flowers and plants transported us to a world of childhood fairytales. We leisurely lingered around the variety of plants enjoying our escape from the draining Singapore heat.

CLOUD FOREST DOME

Of the two domes, this was by far my favorite. A futuristic jungle with cascading waterfalls, secret gardens, crystal mountains, and a walkway through the clouds. The interactive video playing at the bottom floor described the effects of temperature increase and climate change around the planet. By the end of our trek through the Cloud Forest we were both brought to tears and inspired by the possibilities that the future holds.

ART SCIENCE MUSEUM

The Art Science Museum, known as the Welcoming Hand of Singapore, is a giant lotus flower building that sits on the bayfront of the Marina Bay Sands resort area

There were a few of exhibits to choose from but we decided on FUTURE WORLDS: WHERE ART MEETS SCIENCE, an interactive collection of installations displaying a range of digital technology. There was a nature room with flora and fauna projected on the walls, a park with giant bouncy balls spread throughout that changed color by touch, and a space room with beads of large, sparkling crystals that dangled from the ceiling. The exhibit was geared more toward children, but Sean and I still loved it.

ORCHARD ROAD

Shop ’til you drop on this road full of fancy stores, bright lights and fat wallets. We arrived in Singapore in the middle of November but Christmas was already in full swing. Nothing I’ve seen in the States could compare with the holiday decor on Orchard Road. Sean and I were too overwhelmed, overawed, and overstimulated to handle more than a quick stroll through the Santa overkill. We witnessed enough Christmas cheer in one hour to last us through the rest of the year — and it wasn’t even Thanksgiving yet. Unfortunately we were too in shock to take any photos. If I’d known that Christmas in Thailand would be so ho-hum, I would have welcomed, appreciated, and savored the holiday spirit of Singapore a lot more.

 MERLION

Last but not least, the true gem and people-watching mecca of Singapore, the Merlion – a statue, half lion/half mermaid, resting atop concrete waves, spouting water from its majestic mouth. I had found my true spirit animal!

We blissfully watched, trying not to laugh out loud, as tourists attempted (over and over again) to take forced perspective photos of the Merlion spewing water into their cupped hands or open mouths.

Sean and I obviously had to partake in the hoopla.

I loved the Merlion so much that I couldn’t bare to leave Singapore without one of my very own:

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Singapore

The land of luxury, city of the future, and home to the Merlion (my new favorite animal hybrid) – Singapore. We spent more money here in 3 days (being frugal) than two full weeks in Thailand, but it was totally worth it.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Fortunately, we were able to save quite a bit by staying with our friend, Tamy, in her posh high-rise apartment. Without free lodging, our trip expenses would have doubled. She also served as our personal expert and ‘Trip Advisor’ to everything Singapore.

Special thanks to Tamy for letting us crash at her pad, taking us out, and showing us a fabulous time. We miss you already!!!

GETTING AROUND

I loved the Singapore MRT (Mass Rapid Transit)! It was so easy to get anywhere in the city riding their clean (and air-conditioned trains). Rideshare apps, Uber and Grab, were super cheap and easy to use when we didn’t feel like walking to the MRT station in the humid, midday heat. Taxis are also an option if you don’t mind paying a little more. Apparently it is extremely expensive to buy and own a car in Singapore. This forces most people to take public transportation and leaves the roads traffic free.

FOOD

Hainanese chicken rice is the Singaporean specialty. We had seen the dish served throughout Thailand but never were tempted enough to order it. It seemed necessary to finally try the boiled chicken and broth rice in the place where it was invented and made  famous.

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The chicken rice at Boon Tong Kee tasted like it looked – bleh. Everyone around us had ordered the same dish and seemed to enjoy it immensely. We didn’t really get the appeal. The chicken was served cold and the rice wasn’t anything special. I’d be willing (but not enthusiastic) to try it again. On the other hand, the crispy beancurd and all of their in-house sauces were incredible.

Singapore is home to many high-end restaurants. Famous celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Mario Batali, and Wolfgang Puck all have high class eateries at the Marina Bay Sands. Since we were traveling on a budget, we opted for cheap eats instead.

The mall food-courts became our goto for most every meal and they did not disappoint. There was a wide selection of cuisines from around the world at reasonable prices.

My most notable meal was the chili crab and Satay by the Bay. Spicy, messy goodness.

DRINKS

Getting drunk in Singapore was impossible. While there were bars everywhere around the city, the drinks were extremely expensive (especially when coming from Chiang Mai where you can get a beer for $1-2USD or a gin and tonic for $2-3USD). On our first night out we spent about $75USD on THREE drinks. Granted I had an insanely good Bloody Mary topped with tiny pickles and baked beans, it was definitely not worth the price.

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When we tried to be thrifty by purchasing a “pre-party” bottle of wine at the gas station, we were turned down because their liquor law prohibits shops from selling booze after 10:30pm.

On the upside,  the bars were swanky and we were in good company so a buzz was not necessary to have a delightful evening.

SITES

Singapore is unlike anyplace we’ve ever been. Stand almost anywhere, take a look around, and you will be transported to a place of futuristic beauty – clean streets featuring hip restaurants and bars, unique skyscrapers garnished here and there with abundant gardens, and water shows displaying light projections and floating bubbles.

Orchard Road, Marina Bay Sands, Gardens by the Bay, the Cloud Dome, Flower Dome, Merlion, and Art Science Museum – we covered quite a bit in 3 days. I’ll be writing another post on our adventures in the Lion City.

 

 

3 rainy days in Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is a city about 3-4hrs north of Chiang Mai. Sean and I planned to stop there for a day or two on our way to the national forest park, Phu Chi Fa. Our original intention was to go hiking up the mountains to watch what is supposed to be an amazing sunrise. Unfortunately we could not predict the weather and a storm forced us to change our initial plan. We turned rainclouds to rainbows and made the most of our time in the northern town of Chiang Rai.

Here are some of the highlights:

White Temple

Wat Rong Khun, known to tourist as The White Temple, was created by Chalermchai Kositpipat as an art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple. Easily the most “majestical” temple I’ve seen thus far, this sparkling shrine was especially spectacular on a dark and cloudy day.  The white buildings are covered with fragmented glass giving them a beautiful shimmer and glow straight out of a fantasy. My favorite part is the mural inside the main structure (or ubosot). To get there you must pass the concrete sea of outreaching statue hands and cross over the bridge of “the cycle of rebirth”. A large mural of flames and demons covers the walls in the ubosot. Dispersed throughout are idols of western culture – Michael Jackson, Harry Potter, the Terminator, Jigsaw, and superheroes  – representing the evil devotions of mankind. For 30Baht we inscribed out names on a small, silver ornament to be hung with thousands of others, leaving our mark in this enchanting edifice.

Black Temple

Almost the polar opposite of the above, the Baan Dam (or the Black House) is a museum/art studio created by Thai artist, Thawan Duchanee. We immediately felt a dark and eerie vibe consuming the museum grounds when we arrived. Dark clouds and heavy rain pour definitely intensified the creepiness of the snake and crocodile skins, buffalo horns, and animal skulls adorning the walls and tables. In spite of the sinister decor, there is something hauntingly enticing and beautiful about Baan Dam. Definitely worth checking out!

Cat n’ a Cup

Apparently there are quite a few cat cafes throughout Thailand but this is the first one that Sean and I had seen. The name says it all – hangout with some cats while you drink your cappuccino. I wouldn’t consider myself a cat person but I do love animals and being without our dogs for so long (and also learning of Trump’s victory that very morning), I needed something cute and cuddly to cheer me up.

Reggae Home & Bar – (Facebook page)

The best night in Chiang Rai was spent getting drunk and making friends with some locals. We were wandering through the streets looking for a place to have a drink and recalled a small reggae bar in a nearby alley. As we approached the bar, we were quickly beckoned in and offered free food (meats on a stick and pad thai). The bar was pretty much empty but it had a chill vibe and the young owners couldn’t be friendlier. Apparently it was their very first day and we were their very first customers (aside from a few friends there for support). We ended up staying for hours – drinking beer and taking shots.

Night Bazaar

Aside from the few scattered bars, there is not much of a nightlife presence in Chiang Rai. Wanting a low key evening, we headed to the Night Bazaar for drinks, a light dinner, and some window shopping. Most of the food stalls served hot pots and your standard Thai dishes. We opted instead for bugs and beer. We scanned over the grasshoppers and cockroach-like bugs and settled on the safer looking silk worms piled on a paper plate.

Chiang Rai Beach

Don’t be deceived, Chiang Rai is far from the ocean and not at all like a beach. Instead we found a path along the river and small huts where we could sit back, relax, and drink a couple beers. The ‘beach’ was quiet and empty with the exception of a few locals napping in huts nearby. I could have easily sat there for hours enjoying the breeze and the occasional boats passing by, but sadly we had to catch bus back to Chiang Mai.

Trazy offers a one day trip from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. Interested? Click HERE for details.

Burgers and Burritos

The two types of cuisine we knew we would miss most while in Asia: burgers (specifically In-N-Out) and Mexican food.

Burgers

Most cafes/restaurants in Chiang Mai serve burgers and there are even a couple McDonalds and Burger Kings in the city. We’ve gotten the craving for a good ol’ fashioned cheeseburger a couple of times thus far. While they served as a much needed break from Thai food, neither burger hit the spot.

Smith Residence Burger

Our apartment building has a restaurant with authentic Thai food. They also make a decent American breakfast. Since we’d be staying here for a couple of months, I figured I’d give their burger a try. All of the necessary elements were there – bun, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato – but it was far from what I was craving.  The burger itself was small, the patty was dry and flavorless, and the cheese was cold.

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Damn Good Burgers and Fries

Don’t let the name fool you as it did us. They were more like so-so burgers and acceptable fries. Though it was much better than the one at Smith Residence, the cheeseburger was nothing to get excited about. I might eat it again if I were desperate, but there are other burger joints to try first.

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Mexican

I knew it would be impossible to find Mexican food that would compare to what we have in California, but sometimes a girl just needs a burrito. We’ve tried two of the higher-rated restaurants around Old City – El Diablo and Loco Elvis – both were better than I was expecting.

El Diablo

The food at this hole in the wall is just ok but they serve a strong-ass margarita to make up for it. The more drinks you have, the more authentic the food becomes. The chips are thick but surprisingly tasty and the salsa isn’t much unlike that of a California Cantina.

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Loco Elvis

Thai people love Elvis! The chips here were inedible and the salsa was warm, but the pork chimichanga was something that I will go back for. Especially since they have live music and karaoke on certain nights.

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Taco Bell – sort of.

Quesadillas, burgers, and burritos!!! We didn’t try this cart but had to snap a photo. Not sure if the line was long because the food was good, or if the tourists were drunk. My bet is on the latter.

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Aroy Aroy – Thai Cooking School

Gordon Ramsay, who? The master chef within us has awoken and we are ready to take on the culinary world! Ok, maybe I exaggerate…but our skills have reached a new level after an incredible day at Aroy Aroy Thai cooking school in Chiang Mai – http://aroyaroyschool.com.

There are many cooking schools with great reviews to choose from but we decided on Aroy Aroy for two main reasons: 1) they take you by riverboat to get to the market and 2) the dishes I wanted to learn most were taught in their ‘Chef’s Favorites Course’.

We arrived to Aroy Aroy at 9:30am to meet our teachers, Chef ‘A’ and Chef ‘O’, and the other students (11 total). Shortly after settling in and chatting with our new peers, we jumped on the boat for a short trip up the Ping River to the Warorot Market.
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Chef ‘A’ guided us through the market while teaching about the Thai culture, flowers, ingredients, etc.

After about an hour, we returned to the cooking school by boat, put on our aprons, and were assigned to our very own cooking stations.

Our first dish, som tom (my favorite spicy salad), was the perfect starter. The key is in the sauce which requires the perfect combination of fish sauce, tamarind, and palm sugar – three ingredients found in many Thai dishes.

Next up, the most well know and most popular Thai dish in the world, pad thai. I was amazed at how quick and easy it was to make pad thai that tasted better than any take-out I’ve ordered in LA.

Finally, the meal I had been waiting for – KHAO SOI!!! The deep red color of the soup comes from slowly adding coconut milk to the curry paste as it heats in the wok. The more curry paste, the spicier (and the more delicious if you ask me). Sean’s bowl was especially yummy!!

We were satisfied and stuffed after the khao soi, but there was still more to learn. After the soup, we moved on to stir fried chicken and cashews. The ingredient that sets this stir fry apart from the rest is the roasted chili paste.

No meal is complete without dessert! We ended the day with a simple Thai specialty – mango sticky rice. Sweet mango is hard to find back home but here they are a dime a dozen. When combined with sticky rice and topped with coconut milk you get the perfect confection.

By the end of the day we could barely move (but it was totally worth it). We gained new friends, a wealth of knowledge, and about 5 extra pounds.

Thanks to Chef ‘A’ and Chef ‘O’ for being such wonderful teachers. And a special shoutout to Roy, the owner, an expat that came to Thailand to retire. His love for food brought him into the cooking school business. Aroy Aroy is a true gem!

My dream to cook khao soi has become a reality and I am filled with joy (and food).

The Rose of the North

Chiang Mai is everything we were hoped for, and then some. It didn’t take very long for us to become smitten with our new home (for the next couple months). Friendly locals, bustling night markets, delectable eats, cheap massages, and temples galore – what’s not to love?

The Smith Residence

Our apartment is just outside the old city, south of Chiang Mai Gate. We have decent sized room with a microwave, TV, fridge, spacious bed, and a well working air conditioner. Sean has to get on his knees to take a shower (guess it doesn’t always suck to be short) but besides that, we are pleased with our accommodations. The complex also has a rooftop gym and pool that is open from 6am-9pm.

Transportation

Tuk tuks wait on every street corner and while there are a few standard taxis, most people  get around using red trucks with oversized campers (songthaews) that serve as mini busses which can take multiple riders at a time. They are not metered but are a bargain when compared to tuk tuks.

Food, food, and more food

We have barely scratched the surface when it comes to Northern Thai cuisine. Khao soi is my obvious go to (My new love) but there is so much more to be discovered.

Of course we had to hit up the notorious “lady with the cowgirl hat” for her khao kha moo (slow stewed pork leg). It was some of the juiciest, tastiest, most tender pork I’ve ever eaten!

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the woman, the myth, the legend – number 1!!!

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khao kha moo from Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak

Here are some other noteworthy dishes we’ve had so far:

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Chicken Noodle Soup from Buathip

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gai yang from SP Chicken

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Thai rotee with banana and chocolate

Smoothies are a typical refreshment here in Thailand. Our favorite so far has been the mango mania smoothie from Mango Mania in the MAYA Lifestyle Shopping Center. It was thick and sweet and could cure any heat stroke in three sips.

Italian, Mexican, Irish, fast food – they have a decent variety to choose from. Aside from the occasional American breakfast, we’ve only eaten Thai. At some point I’m sure we will crave a burrito or some tacos but I predict a disappointing experience. Stay tuned for that…

My new love

Move over ramen, pho, broccoli cheese! There’s a new soup in town and it has quickly become my new everythang – khao soi.

This heavenly entrée consists of deep-fried crispy egg noodles atop a bowl of boiled egg noodles in a curry-like sauce with coconut milk and meat (chicken, pork, beef, or seafood). It is served with a side of pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime, and ground chillies fried in oil.

It was our second day in Chiang Mai. The night before was spent researching Northern Thai dishes and go to eateries in the city. Khao Soi Khun Yai was at the top of a few lists for their khao soi soup. We took to the streets in search of this highly recommended establishment. It took a little while to find since this luncheonette was located in an alley between two wats and looked more like a garbage collection stand with tables and chairs than a place where one would find a life altering bowl of deliciousness.

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Khao Soi Khun Yai – currently ranked #1

Since this meal, I have eaten khao soi almost every single day. I have yet to find a bowl that compares to the one I demolished at Khao Soi Khun Yai but they have all still hit the spot. I intend on eating as many bowls as I can while I am here.

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Khao Soi from street cart at Chiang Mai Gate night market (chicken) #2

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Khao Soi Phorjai in Chiang Rai (chicken) #3

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Khao Soi from Night Bazaar food court (chicken and vegetable) #4

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Khao Soi from restaurant by the Chiang Rai bus stop (chicken) #5

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Khao Soi Islam (seafood) #6

Sean and I are planning to take a cooking class (or two) while we are in Chiang Mai. Soon I will learn how to make khao soi so I can cook it ALL THE TIME when we get back to the states.

khao-soi

khao soi FOREVER ❤