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Posts Tagged ‘Thailand’

Always in search of the perfect beach, Alex and I splurged on two fabulous beach holidays this summer.

Ironically, what I realized is that while I do love looking at the beautiful sea, I much prefer swimming in the chlorinated pool. No pesky sand to get all over everything, no sticky salt left behind after drying off, no coral to slice up my feet, and never any slimy seaweed-covered bottom.

Thankfully, I also discovered the sheer bliss of the pool villa.

Our first trip of the summer was to Koh Racha, an island south of Phuket, here in Thailand. When we were booking the trip, we were thinking that it would be our only “vacation” of the summer and the rest of the time would be in the US or here in Bangkok. So, we splurged on a fancy hotel with our very first pool villa:

Our Pool Villa

Private Pool

Yep, that’s our pool – just for our villa, with the view of the ocean through the door.

Now, that’s not to say that the beach on Koh Racha wasn’t up to standards, because it was beautiful:

Perfect Beach

But, I have to admit that I didn’t swim in the sea at all the whole time we were there. It was more than enough to be able to watch and listen to the waves from our private pool.

And now I guess I really am a fancy pants. Because I pretty much only want to stay in pool villas from now on. In fact, I’m so dedicated to my new goal that I actually bought a book called Thailand Pool Villas (clearly a ploy from the Thai Ministry of Tourism, and only available here in Thailand, but one that will serve me well, I’m sure).

As if that wasn’t enough, our second trip of the summer (after spending 3 weeks back in the US) was here:

Beach & Restaurant

The Maldives. Basically, paradise on Earth. Sadly, no pool villa for us here, though (I booked this trip before I knew just how much I was going to love the pool villa).

Each island in the Maldives is so small that the country has a policy of one island, one resort. Our little island was so small that we could walk around the whole thing in about 15 minutes.

Our villa was adorable:

Our Villa at Dusk

with basically our own private beach directly in front:

Relax

I actually made sure to document the most crowded beach day:

Two

Two people.

I’d wanted to go to the Maldives for years, but what finally pushed me to actually go this summer was the fact that Bangkok Air (“Asia’s Boutique Airline” according to them) flies directly there and it’s only a 4 hour flight from Bangkok. I guess summer is the “worst” time to go, so flights were relatively cheap and hotels were offering pretty major discounts. Having said that, I would love to go back again, but I might try a different hotel next time.

Maybe one with a pool villa…

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Over the last few years Alex and I have been working on collecting art, specifically paintings, on our travels. Nothing fancy, but Alex now likes to refer to me (sarcastically) as a “patron of the arts.” Whenever we’re on a holiday, we tend to look for paintings by local artists as our souvenirs. Of course this also includes selecting special pieces here in Bangkok.

So, last week, we headed out to Chatuchak to pick up our second painting by a local artist:

Bodhi

This one is a Bodhi tree, the tree that Buddha meditated under, and a common site around Thailand and southeast Asia. I love the heart shaped leaves, a shape which is reproduced in all sorts of temple decorations around the country.

We had our first painting made (by the same artist) last year:

Swirls

This one is more of a modern twist on a similar style. I love the swirling style and flowing writing across the bottom. The three panels make it super easy to transport and gives it a more distinct feel than the single panel.

Both paintings have a dark reddish background with the trees and leaves pressed on in gold leaf. They are so shiny and soothing to look at. I love them!

What do you like to purchase as a record of your travels?

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Today begins our three week semester break! We started celebrating in style last night with a hi so (a cute Thai nickname for “high society) evening of drinks at the Banyan Tree’s Vertigo, dubbed the highest open-air bar in southeast Asia, and dinner at the Suan Lum night bazaar.

We arrived just after five, in time to see the cloudy gray skies over the city:

Gray Skies

Got to watch the beautiful sunset, while enjoying our drinks:

Sunset

Ben and Chrissy

Enjoyed seeing the evening lights slowly brighten:

Dusk

And eventually headed back down to the city for some tasty Thai food:

City Lights

Along with our lovely friends:

Celebrate

The perfect way to start a holiday break, if you ask me!

What are you doing this holiday season?

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This has been an interesting week. On Tuesday, the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), began protesting at Bangkok’s international airport, Suvarnabhumi, which resulted in the closure of the airport when they “stormed” the airport control towers and stopped allowing planes in and out. It’s now Saturday morning and both Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang (the older, domestic airport) have been closed for days. Hundreds of thousands of travelers are now stranded in destinations around the world while this major hub of travel in Asia is non-functioning.

Oddly enough, life seems to be going on entirely as normal here in the city. The streets are calmer than usual – less traffic, less people out and about – but that’s about it. We continue to go to school and work every day, ride the BTS, and enjoy living downtown. It’s a strange feeling, knowing that something critical to the county’s future is happening just on the outskirts of the city, but having absolutely no effect on our daily life.

I wonder when all this is going to end? Technically, I suppose I’m stranded in Bangkok, but if Bangkok is home, does that really count as stranded?

Treasure Island by Aaron Escobar

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I have always been a little choosy about what food I eat. I was raised almost entirely on Italian cooking – few ingredients, simple dishes, eaten when foods are in season – but I am American, after all, so despite my mom’s best efforts, I still crave disgusting delights like Taco Bell or Burger King every now and again.

I’m not sure if it was my mom’s influence, or just my personality, but I have always been wary of meats. I only like certain types of meats and certain cuts. I definitely don’t like my meat to taste “gamey.” There’s just something about meat that kind of grosses me out. I’m not sure if it’s the animal rights issue (because I do purchase leather products, although I would never feel comfortable wearing a fur coat or leather jacket, I appreciate the superior quality of leather shoes and wallets, for example) but something about eating animals seems a bit odd to me.

For a very brief time, I was a vegetarian. It was pretty easy to do while I was in university and the year afterward. I lived in Connecticut, tofu and other meatless products were easy to come by, and I never had to struggle to find what I wanted. Now I must admit, even during that time I was a very very lax vegetarian and would often “cheat” if there was something I really wanted.

However, all bets were off when we moved to Germany a year after I graduated from university. I tried my hardest to remain a vegetarian for about a month into life in our new home. Every time I ordered something from a menu I went through a complicated process of naming every sort of animal part that could be in, let’s say, my potato soup. “Is there ham? Pork? Bacon? Meat? Pig? Fat?”

Of course the answer was always no, and the soup always arrived with bits of fried pork skin (or something else I didn’t think to explicitly mention in my ten minutes of questioning prior to my order). So I finally gave in. I do have a weakness for pork products and I was living in the land of sausage.

Now, many years later, I have definitely given up any attempts to be vegetarian, but I still choose my food carefully. Unless I can clearly identify which part of the animal (and which animal) a certain dish is coming from, I opt for the vegetarian version. And I find myself choosing meatless products more and more lately.

Around two years ago I read Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour, which describes his international search to find the perfect meal. Many of the stories he shares revolve around the closeness of most cultures to their food, specifically the actual life and death of the animals they eat. He talks a lot about the sterile food environment that most Americans are raised in – meat comes from a tightly sealed, vaccine-pumped, package in the US, not an animal.

Personally, I can totally relate to this concept. If I had to kill the animal I eat to make my meal, you can bet I’d be a vegetarian (which I do understand makes me somewhat hypocritical for eating meat in the first place, but I think we all know I’m not perfect). I do find it strange that we are so removed from our environment – I remember watching a Jamie Oliver show around the same time that I read Bourdain’s book (so obviously the same problem exists in the UK) about how British children don’t know what vegetables look like before they’re cooked or what animal is inside chicken nuggets. Scary.

Just before we left for our summer holidays this year I watched the movie Fast Food Nation (based on the book by Eric Schlosser, which I also own). Not surprisingly I had to close my eyes during the final scenes on the “kill floor.” The industrialization of food consumption in the US is so disgusting, it’s almost unbelievable that it can continue to exist. It freaks me out that I have been eating food that is produced in such a horrific way, and that somehow, our culture seems to have been convinced (myself included) that it tastes good. As you might expect, I steered well clear of any sort of chain restaurant (as well as meat in general) this summer.

Around the same time I started learning about the eastern garbage patch in the North Pacific Ocean. Our reliance on plastics, and their inability to biodegrade, is terrifying. And the fact that almost everyone I’ve talked to about the topic has never heard of it, is even more scary. I shared a few videos with my relatives and have started talking about it with my students when we learn about water.

Last year I watched The Story Of Stuff which got me thinking about how casually we throw things away, and to now see some of the direct results of this “disposable” plastic totally freaks me out. I mean who thinks about the plastic granules in their facial cleanser not being able to biodegrade and ending up eaten by fish who mistakenly think it’s food, and who are then, in turn, eaten by us. How much plastic have I consumed unknowingly? 

During our time in Oregon, my mother-in-law loaned me a book called My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki. It’s a work of fiction, but based in truth with tons of references and citations. The stories of hormone injected meat and the impact those drugs can have on human development (beginning puberty at 5 years old in some cases) got me thinking about what kinds of foods I may have been exposed to as a child – when we were less informed about what goes into the industrial food chain. I actually still feel scared, although considering I’ve made it this far, I must be reasonably OK.

Of course Eugene, Oregon is the perfect place to have these kinds of discussions. If there is one community in the US that has their heart in sustainability and healthy living, I think it’s those lucky folks that live in Eugene.

Unfortunately for me, I really do love living overseas, so even though I feel right at home in the Pacific Northwest, once we headed back to Bangkok I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself – foodwise.

So I started reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. And then, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. If I wasn’t already in a panic about making food choices before I started reading, then I certainly am now. 

It’s clear that I should be buying local produce – not only do I know it will taste better and be fresher, more full of vitamins and nutrients – but it will also help support a more sustainable method of farming and feeding ourselves. Plus, I don’t want all my foods flown in from all over the world, using more fuel and spewing more carbon emissions into our already polluted environment, just to have a strawberry in December in Thailand.

But I’m also worried about safe food practices in my local environment. I routinely walk through a fog of pesticide spray designed to keep us free from insect invasion, and see that the poor person doing the spraying has no mask, the cloud of poisonous gas working its magic not only on the bugs, I’m sure.

A standard sign of life in the developing world, for sure, but what does this mean about how vegetables and fruits are grown in the countryside? Or how animals are raised? And what about the horrifying business practice of our political neighbors, like China. How do we even know where all of the local items are really coming from if the labels are written in Thai and so many international corporations have parent companies to mask their true origins?

So here I am, loving life in Thailand, but wondering what to eat. And how to make ethical choices in a developing country. To be honest, I don’t even know where to begin… Anyone have any advice?

 

Images From:
German Sausages & More from reiner.kraft
Veggie’s Splendor from suviko
Packaged Chicken Image
Garbage Patch Image
My Year of Meats Cover
The Omnivore’s Dilemma Cover
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Cover

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It’s been quite a while since I last posted. I’m sad to say that this blog has been quite neglected since I started my new position at ISB. I’ve been so busy, learning so much, that I haven’t had much time to reflect on my non-existent personal life.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been traveling. As soon as vacation starts, Alex and I are off on another adventure. Last month it was a fabulous two week tour of Thailand – from the southern state of Krabi to the ancient capital of Ayuthaya, to the northern city of Chiang Mai. We did all this lovely travelling with our two great friends from Munich, Sabine and Neil, who flew all the way here to experience the beauty of Thailand.

Sabine and Neil

We started our trip with a week at the beach, Krabi, where we had a surprising number of adventures:

On our very first day, we were enjoying a nice swim, when Sabine was stung by a sea urchin. She said the pain shot up her leg almost instantaneously. Thankfully, the hotel staff were incredibly responsive and carried her into the doctor’s office immediately (which, I must say was quite frightening to me – I’ve never seen anyone move so quickly in southeast Asia before!). It took her about 12 hours to recover – she was in a wheelchair for the whole evening. I can only imagine what might have happened had we not been staying at a hotel with a doctor!

That very same evening we were forced into one of my least favorite things about Thailand during the holidays. At all the major hotels (this one was a Sheraton) on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, they have these huge compulsory dinners – usually one dinner costs at least (and often more than) the price of the room. This time around we had a huge Christmas Eve buffet – which, in all honesty, was delicious. Unfortunately, whatever I ate was not quite fit for my stomach, so I spent the following 12 hours in the bathroom enjoying all the glories of food poisoning. So much so that I ended up at the doctor’s office as well. What a pleasure to spend my entire second day at the beach in the hotel room. Lovely.

After those first two days, things evened out a bit. We got to play with the hotel’s adorable baby elephant, RaRa, on the beach and in the water:

Rara by the Sea

she had such bristly hair on her back:

A Bristly Back

but she was still so cute:

Elephant's Eye View

We also spent some time exploring the various beaches and waters of Koh Phi Phi and around Krabi:

Swim

After Krabi, we flew back to Bangkok, spent some quality time at Jatujuk market, and visited the Grand Palace:

Guardian

There was so much to see – I can’t wait to go back the next time some friends come to town!

Next, we took a day tour of the old capital of Thailand, Ayutthaya:

Wrapped

Spotlight

Fly-by

After Ayutthaya, we headed up to Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand:

Not only was the weather absolutely perfect – so cool and refreshing – but it was so relaxing and green! We enjoyed visiting the beautiful nearby temples:

Lantern

Melt

and ruins:

Ensconced

took Thai cooking classes:

Ingredients

where we saw the cutest kid ever while we were at the market! He loved having his picture taken and seeing the result on the camera. I actually managed to teach him how to take a picture, he was enjoying himself so much!

Little Cutie

and took a trip up the river to a fruit and herb farm:

Sunset

We also spent quite a bit of time shopping while we were in Chiang Mai. Everything is so much cheaper than Bangkok, and with the cool temperatures, it makes it such a pleasure to stroll around the markets. We ended up buying quite a lot of teak furniture, which I absolutely love (pictures soon). I can totally see how easy it would be to buy a whole house full of furniture here (hmmm…. a plan is forming).

One of my favorite things about the first long vacation in a new country is exploring everything we new eyes. We had such a great time traveling around Thailand with our friends. Their first visit made it feel like our first visit! Honestly, I feel so lucky to be living in such a beautiful country with so many wonderful people and places to see…

We will definitely be going back to Chiang Mai, and I can’t wait to spend more time on the beach! I just wish there was a little more time for vacationing 😉

How did you spend your holiday season?

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This summer I bought a Nikon D40 in an attempt to improve my photography skills.

Now, I know that people say the talent is not in the camera, but I’ve just been through all the pictures I’ve taken in the last three years, and something about the Nikon has drastically improved my photography. Maybe it’s just the fact that when I hold that camera I feel like I know what I’m doing, and since I can pretend that I look like I know what I’m doing, I seem to have more confidence, which leads to better pictures…

Anyway, one thing I’ve learned is to capture small details that represent the larger whole – instead of having one picture to capture everything that’s happening in one scene, focus on the details. And with that in mind, I give you some small details from the fabulous Jatajuk market here in Bangkok: 

Pile of Color

Buddha

Silk

Puppets

Tribal Pillow Patterns

Solitary Lotus

For those of you that don’t know Jatajuk, it must be the biggest weekend market in the world with over 15,000 stalls and 300,000 visitors on an average weekend day. They have absolutely everything and anything you could imagine – from strange wild animals, to silks, to plants, to clothes, to toilet bowls. It’s amazing. And, clearly it’s going to be a few dozen more trips before I even start to touch some of those other sections – the silks and handicrafts are just too interesting for now!

What small details capture your weekends? 

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