Tuesday, January 29, 2013


I arrived in Hanoi two days ago at 10 p.m..  When I arrived at the apartment I rented, the owner, Dong, and her partner Narelle, who live in the apartment above mine, came out to the taxi to greet me.  They helped me get my luggage upstairs and spent almost an hour with me, showing me how things worked in the apartment, chatting about the neighborhood, and sharing tips about getting around town and shopping for things.  They had stocked the refrigerator with breakfast items—eggs, bread, strawberry jam, cheese, milk—and coffee, tea, and drinking water were available.   In the bathroom, there was toilet paper, soap, towels and shampoo.  The kitchen is well equipped for cooking and some basic items, like salt, pepper, flour, sugar, and cooking oil were on a shelf.  I really appreciated what had been provided, as well as their warm welcome.  This was quite a contrast to Bangkok, where there was absolutely nothing in the apartment—not even a starter roll of toilet paper.

The next day, Narelle toured me around the neighborhood, took me to buy a SIM card for my phone, arranged for my laundry to be done, got me a map of the city, and showed me where the nearest grocery store is, which I never would have found without her.  She waited while I bought a few groceries and then invited me to join her and Dong for lunch.  After lunch, she offered to review my tentative list of sights to see and restaurants to try, and she and Dong gave their opinions. 

Today, I woke up feeling like crap.  After I’ve flown, I usually take some medicine to boost my immune system, because there are always inconsiderate coughers and sneezers expelling their germs into the airplane air to be circulated my way.   I was really tired by the time I got settled into this apartment and forgot to take the medicine.  So, of course, I got sick.  Narelle called this morning to tell me my laundry was ready to be picked up and learned that I wasn’t feeling well.  She offered to get my laundry for me, and she and Dong stopped by late this morning.  In addition to my laundry, they brought me two bags of fruit and a bouquet of roses that really smell like roses (remember when?).   They offered to make me lunch, but I’d already had a sandwich, and later brought me an extra blanket to make sure I stayed warm.

This world is overflowing with nice people.  I meet them everywhere I go.   And then there are the angels.  These are people who extend themselves to you in ways that touch your heart and bring tears to your eyes.  I met angels in Italy—the couple I stayed with for the last three weeks who treated me with incredible generosity and hospitality and my other penpal in Cassino who hosted me for a weekend and was also extremely generous and gracious—these were people I had come to know through our correspondence before I arrived in Italy.  And I met angels in Thailand--the young couple in Bangkok who spent a weekend orienting me to the city and the women in Bangkok and ChiangMai who responded to the email I sent through an expat website, seeking to meet new friends in these places.  Then there were people I just met along the way who showed me extraordinary kindness—the fruit and vegetable vendor in Sicily who always made sure I left with the best he had to offer and the man who waited for me to return to my car, then spent over an hour trying to help me resolve a computer problem he heard about from the owner of the store where I had tried to get help.   These people went beyond courtesy to give something of themselves to me.  

Angels aren’t as plentiful as nice people.   They’re a rare breed that leave an indelible impression on you.  I’m happy that there are so many nice people in the world—that knowledge enables me to travel without fear, knowing that there will always be people willing to take a minute to help me find my way.  But I feel blessed to have encountered these angels who open their hearts and connect with mine.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


I thought I was “templed out”, but I hadn’t yet seen Wat Phrathat, the Buddhist temple that sits at the peak of Doi Suthep, a mountain of 5500 feet about 15 kilometers from ChiangMai.  This is the most beautiful temple I’ve seen in northern Thailand.  The first chedi here is said to have been built in 1383, and legend has it that there is a relic of Buddha, part of his shoulder bone, buried underneath the temple. 

This is the sacred chedi under which this holy relic is said to be buried. 

People walk around the chedi three times saying their devotional prayers…..linking them to the legend of the elephant that carried the holy relic to this mountain top, circled it three times and then died.

This is the shrine to that elephant.

There were buddhas......


And more buddhas.....To me, this replica looks more like an Emerald Buddha than the real one in Bangkok.

People here know the day of the week they were born and there’s a different Buddha position for each day.  People put their donations in the collection container in front of the Buddha that’s in their birth day position.  Do you know what day of the week you were born?  I was born on Thursday, and my Buddha is the third from the right. 

The Thursday Buddha image is sitting in a full lotus position with soles upward and visible, the hands resting in the lap, right above left with all fingers extended, palms upward.  In this position, some believe the body is receptive to energy entering through the top of the head and through the open palms.  I'll have to try that when I'm feeling a need for an energy boost!

This is the view of ChiangMai.  You can see it’s a sprawling city, and it’s growing rapidly.  Some of the locals I spoke with are planning to move further north to ChiangRai because this city is getting too big for them.

On the way down the mountain, we stopped at the royal winter palace, Bhubing Palace, where the royal family stays during their seasonal visits to northern Thailand. 

I didn’t see the palace, because there are renovations taking place, but here’s a picture from the website.  Pretty modest by European palace standards.

Again, whenever the royals are involved, the gardens are exquisite. I could have spent the day here just enjoying the perfect weather and the beautiful surroundings.

Flowers, flowers everywhere.

I have lots more pictures of flowers....they were everywhere!

I think the queen likes ferns.  The fern gardens I've seen have been named for her.

A stand of bamboo trees.

This is May, the tour guide.  Her tour company has 20 guides, and I had her for all three tours I took with this company.  She says that’s happened to her only once before.  She’s a great tour guide, very knowledgeable, with a wonderful sense of humor.

And I went to yet another cooking school.  The experience was similar to others I’ve had, but the class was smaller, just 6 of us.    

Nerys and Jess from London making their curry paste.  You have to pound, pound, and pound some more to get it to the right consistency.

Moon from Korea, and Doreen and Roy from Germany 

The market we visited had an area where there were rows of table like this where workers were butchering meat.

I made some different dishes here, but I think you’ve probably seen enough of the Thai food I’ve cooked.  If you need any Thai recipes, I'm your go-to!  I now have three recipes books.  Remind me to give you one from the Siam Rice Cookbook.  Theirs were the tastiest.

I also made a new friend here—an American expat, originally from Madison, Wisconsin.  We met at an Internations.com event last week and had lunch this week.  Connie is a recently retired high school counselor who moved to ChiangMai from HongKong in July.  After just a few months, she’s decided that retirement isn’t for her, and she’s planning to re-enter the work force, hopefully back in HongKong.  Her eyes light up every time she mentions this city’s name, so you know there’s a love affair going on there.  Connie told me that during March and April, the air quality in ChiangMai is seriously polluted by the burning of farms fields in the surrounding area.  She might come to visit me in Florence to escape the ashes.  Connie introduced me to her hairdresser, and I’m no longer a Marilyn Monroe blond!

I’ve really enjoyed my time here in ChiangMai, and I’m sorry to be leaving.  Being a small town girl at heart, I found this city to be much more comfortable to navigate.  It’s about the size of Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I lived for 11 wonderful years. 

I’m also leaving Thailand…on Sunday, I schlep me and my luggage to Hanoi, Vietnam, where I’ll camp out for the next month and look for new adventures.  My only regret is that I didn’t make any Thai friends.  Most people here who are my age don’t speak English.  But, again, I met a lot of really interesting people from all over the world, and that's always fun. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013


I finally made a Thai “gal pal”.  Her name is Kuang-jit.  I met her in the most unusual, but beautiful place. 

North of ChiangMai in hill country.  (That's a field of tobacco.) 

Even though she’s quite a few years younger than I am (only 30), Kuang-jit and I found that we have many things in common.

  1. She’s been through a lot of training programs.
  2. She likes to be with only one man at a time—no “playing the field”.
  3. She’s also a “foodie”.
  4. She likes taking life at a leisurely pace, stopping to smell the roses and appreciate nature.
  5. She’s carrying a few extra pounds, too.
  6. She prefers as little vigorous exercise as possible.
  7. She’s a peace-loving soul who really enjoys people. 

I'd say that’s a pretty good list for the beginning of a new friendship.  

It's my pleasure to introduce you to my new friend, Kuang-jit.

She and I got off to a great start when I, following the Thai custom, brought some fruit for our first meeting.  I even hand fed her.  Now you can’t extend yourself much more than that to a new friend.

Or can you?  I thought Kuang-jit got a little piggish when she took my banana right from my mouth!

She brought her man with her.  He’s known here as her mahout, and his name is Ti.  He didn’t speak English, so we didn’t talk much.  But he was very nice.  When Ti goes on vacation alone, Kuang-jit won’t let any other mahout boss her around.  She's a one-mahout woman.

Kuang-jit gave me a tour of the camp where she works and lives. 

Like I said, she’s a real foodie, and she kept stopping for snacks.

It was wonderful meeting Kuang-jit, and even though we may never see each other again, I know I'll never forget her!


It’s been a busy week—cooking school, two tours, attending a ChiangMai Internations.org event where I met some very interesting expats, and an extraordinary experience today that will be the highlight of my next blog entry.  

This entry is about the tour I did yesterday—to the highest point in Thailand, Doi Inthanon, which is located in national park by the same name.  On the way we stopped to see another hill tribe, the Karen.  The Karen are one of the largest hill tribes in Southeast Asia.  Most live in Burma and Laos, but it’s estimated that there are around 300,000 living in the hills of northern Thailand.

These people make their living farming on this land behind their village.  The Karen are known for their use of “slash and burn” agricultural techniques, but this Thai tribe is learning sustainable farming though education provided by one of the King’s projects.

They also weave and sell beautiful and colorful things like this.

All the women in the village take their turn at the looms—mothers teach daughters.  Women here marry very young—at 14 to 16 years old.

We also stopped at two waterfalls. 

The smaller one is the Sirithan.  I walked down (and up) the 142 steps to see this beauty.

The larger one is the Wachirathan Waterfall....a few steps up to this one.  Thai steps, however, are not regulation size or height, and the size and height varies often, so you really have to watch your step.

And then we drove up, up, up to the highest point in Thailand.  2565 meters is 8,415 feet, which can’t compete with an Alp, or a Rocky Mountain but it beats the Smokies.

This is it....can you contain your excitement, please?

This young Thai couple sat next to me on the bus, but couldn’t speak much English.  They were very sweet to me the whole day. This young woman's hands were freezing cold, even though the temperature was only slightly cool and warm in the sun.

On the way down the mountain, we stopped at the Twin Royal Pagodas, which were built by the Royal Thai Air Force and the people of Thailand to commemorate the 60th birthdays of their King and Queen.  The gardens here were stunning.

The King’s pagoda is in the foreground and the Queen’s in the back.

There were many beautiful flowers and flower beds on tiers going up the hill to the pagodas

It was very peaceful and relaxing here, and not too many tourists. 

Our last stop was at a King’s Project site.  One of the significant projects sponsored by the king has been to teach the hill tribes of the north to grow vegetables, coffee, and tobacco instead of poppies for opium and heroin. 

Here's a field of vegetables covered with plastic to protect them from the wind and cold air of mountain evenings.

There were also some beautiful gardens here and ponds.

I saw my first black swans.  Look at those gorgeous red beaks.  

There were 5 black swans here.  And this one lonely white one.

More beautiful flowers.

And a lovely fern garden.

This was a very relaxing tour, and I had a seat at the front of the bus, so no sore back this time.  Good thing, considering my next adventure.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


Since my last post, I’ve been half lounge lizard and half nomad wandering around ChiangMai and, of course, I have more pictures of temples.  Here are my favorite shots….

I haven't seen this guy with the elephant nose before, and I don't know who he is.  I think he must be Indian.

Some pretty fancy windows.

The guard dog/dragon.

I liked this setting and the relative modesty of this temple compared to others.

I thought I was going into a guest house when I opened the door to this.

This was outside an architectural school.

I’ll probably bother you with a few more photos of temples because I’m visiting a famous one on a tour I’m taking, and I wouldn’t want to withhold.

I went to another cooking school this week.  The instruction was different from the one last week.  They demonstrated the prep and cooking for all the dishes that were selected by the class before we cooked them .  So we got to taste a lot of dishes.  They also did some of the prep for us—at the other school, we did all our own prep.  The recipes were different, too.  These had fewer ingredients, so there wasn’t as much flavor layering.  I liked the ones from last week better.   Here are the dishes I made this week…

A sweet and sour creamy prawn soup

Chicken satay…my favorite of the day..and now you can see my Marilyn Monroe blond hair.  Glam, eh?

A yellow curry with chicken on the right….I asked for additional ingredients on this one to duplicate one of my favorite curries---gang garee, which has chicken, potato, carrot, and onion in a yellow curry sauce.  

And pad thai on the left, which I’ve always wanted to make at home….they gave us tofu, but no chicken or shrimp, but it was still pretty good.

I also made a delicious banana pancake for dessert, but forgot to take a picture—you make pancake batter with coconut cream and put sliced bananas and shredded coconut on top before you flip it, then garnish with a drizzle of honey or evaporated milk.  I was wishing for some warm maple syrup, which would have been perfect.

I had lunch yesterday at a restaurant called Butter is Better.  A couple I met at last week’s cooking school recommended it to me, and I was attracted to the name.  I heartily agree with the statement (although a good Italian olive oil is also equally supported).  I’ve been really hungry for some good Western food, and the key word here is good.  You can get Western food, but so far, I haven’t found any that tastes the same.  I had a pastrami Rueben sandwich, and it tasted funny.  I guess I’ll have to keep looking.   There were three American men around my age sitting at the next table, and I couldn’t help but hear their conversation because the tables were very close together.  They were talking about their young Thai girlfriends, and I thought it was pretty funny that this was the topic that dominated their entire conversation....not sports or business or politics.

I went to the Saturday Night Walking Market.  They have markets galore here—the Night Market, which is open every night, I think, the Saturday Walking Market, and the Sunday Walking Market.  At the Saturday Walking Market, there were vendors lining one of the main streets for about a kilometer.  And the crowd was significant.  Every so often there would be a street entertainer working for donations.  That I’m not much of a shopper is a real disadvantage here.  It seems to be a major pastime of Thai people. 

I didn’t see any restaurants in the area where the market was, so I went in search of.  I was looking at the menu of this small Indian restaurant when a Brit who was sitting at one of the two outside tables offered an unequivocal recommendation.  That doesn’t happen often, so I decided to try it.  The food was delicious—the best samosas I’ve ever had and a really excellent butter chicken curry with warm chapati.   The Brit was a regular at the restaurant and joined me for a beer.   The restaurant owner, Lek, was hilarious—he would stop by the table every so often and tell a really corny joke.  My favorite was "I went to see one of the hill tribes yesterday--they had only one left ear."  I was puzzled when I saw him going to the restaurant next door and leaving it with an open beer.  The Brit, Phil, explained to me that many of the small restaurants borrow from each other because they can’t afford to stock everything.  

Today I went on a river cruise…..the name of the river is Ping and it flows from here to Bangkok.  The river was very dirty, but when we got out of the city, there was some pretty scenery.

You can easily find the luxurious next door to squalor here in Thailand.  This home belongs to a rich guy who owns some hotels and restaurants.

And this is his next door neighbor.  These pictures are a little deceiving on size--this one is much smaller than the one above.

There were several people fishing with a simple pole, but this fellow was really serious about it with all his fish traps.

There are billboards of the King and Queen of Thailand all over the place, including the riverside.

I think our guide said that this was a home belonging to one of the royal princesses.  There was a field of sunflowers on the bank in front.

I really love these elegant canopy trees.

Our end point was a Thai farm, which was definitely not a typical farm.  It was a tourist attraction designed to show us the variety of plants and animals on farms in Thailand.

Here's a rice paddy.

And some snoozing boars

There were also bunnies and chickens and all different kinds of fruits, vegetables and herbs.

After the tour, I went to a restaurant that had been recommended by my travel agent and also had really good reviews on Trip Advisor.  It was an Indian/Thai restaurant in a very beautiful setting. 

I had this absolutely delicious steamed seafood curry.  I took out a big spoonful before I took this picture so you could see how the curry “stands up”.  It was steamed in a bowl made of banana leaves and garnished with spiky carrot flowers.

I’ve never had a steamed curry.  I was told it was made with red curry paste and that the dish was partially cooked before it was steamed.  There’s a whole egg in it, which is why it doesn’t have the usual reddish color.  The texture was something like a wet soufflé.  There were shrimp, calamari, sea bass, and mussels in it, and I ate every bite.

For dessert, I had bananas cooked in a syrup of orange and lime juice, sugar and cinnamon, topped with vanilla ice cream….yummy.  

With a bottle of water, this lunch was a whopping 477 baht.  It’s the first time I’ve been charged a 10% service fee and a 7% VAT.   That made it a $16 lunch, but it was worth every baht.