Saturday, August 17, 2013

Southeast Asia Bike Tour Pictures

Here are some photos from our bike trip through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.  I finally got around to weeding through them all and picking out my favourites.  Enjoy!

Ancient Buddha statue at Ayutthaya, the ruined Thai capital.

I bet the builders wish they'd thought of planning this design!

Monks in Luang Prabang, Laos, collecting their morning alms.

Abby changing a flat.  We had amazingly few problems with our bikes.

Chickens on a motorbike - you'd see men riding around with 50-75 live chickens tied upside down on bars slung across the back of the seat, being driven to their impending deaths.

Early morning in a northern Laos rice paddy.

The containers are fille with empty Beer Lao bottles.  Beer Lao is about the only beer to be found in the entire country, and their advertising is everywhere.  Luckily, they make good beer.

A young monk keeping current with the times.

Luang Prabang, Laos - a cosmopolitan jewel in the midst of the jungle.

All the kids loved us.  We subsisted on waves, screamed "Hellos!", and high fives by the dozen, where children would line up along the road and we'd bike by with our hands outstretched. 

Abby, queen of the scooter.  Uhh, watch out for those cows about to trample you.

Thunderstorm in Vang Vieng, Laos.

Young monks in Vientiane, Laos.
Preparing the rice fields for planting in eastern Thailand.

A nighttime noodle stack.  The entire region subsists on cheap, delicious street food.  It's an eater's paradise.

Statues at Angkot Wat, Cambodia.

An entertaining translation among the ruins.

Many of the ruins have been painstakingly rebuilt, the seams disappearing into the temple walls.  Others have been thrown together.

I watched these water buffaloes try to avoid going insane from the cloud of flies on their foreheads.  They'd dunk their heads under water, only to have the cloud of flies wait patiently until they surfaced before landing immediately.

Abby biking through a rubber plantation, and getting more confused looks.

Coca-Cola!  We happened to walk by this distribution center while we were wandering through Phnom Penh, and I asked if I could take a picture.  The workers were confused, but they obliged.  I drink almost no pop at home, but I had 2 or 3 cokes a day overseas.  It's cold, sweet, and something other than warm, questionable water.

Walking through the halls of S-21, an old torture facility during the Khmer Rouge reign.  The stark rooms are filled with photos of the men and women who passed through the compound on their way to the killing fields.
S-21 was a school before it was repurposed for torture, hurriedly, at the start of the Khmer Rouge's reign.  The building has been maintianed as it was discovered when the Khmer Rouge was defeated, and leaves powerful, lasting memories of the horrors of the regime.

Phnom Penh - colourful, vibrant, and surprisingly modern.

Biking towards an afternoon thundershower along the Cambodian coast.

We considered the weather hot and muggy.  The locals considered it to be snowman-covered fleece jacket weather.

Let's go to the beach!  Which one?  Doesn't matter.

Finally, after 7 weeks of biking, our beach vacation materialized.

Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

Soup at the market.

The family vehicle.

A low-tech speed bump.

Tankers off-shore along the stretch from Pattaya to Bangkok.

According to wikipedia, "There were 6,773 stores 7-Elevens in Thailand in 2012, half of which are in Bangkok, making Thailand have the 3rd largest number of stores after Japan and the United States. They plan to increase the number of stores to more than 7,000 by 2013."  We stopped at as many as we could to enjoy the air conditioning.

Returning to the chaos of Bangkok.  Abby's in the bottom left corner, pedalling into the building traffic.  The biking was very comfortable throughout the entire trip, and scary moments were extremely rare.

Hoops in Bangkok!  See that "tall" guy standing at the top of the three-point line, a foot taller than everyone else on the court?  He's actually shorter than me. I borrowed his shoes and gave everyone lessons in how to shoot airballs.  It was worth the blisters.
MBK is one of Bangkok's biggest malls, an indoor market stuffed full of every conceivable consumer good.  Haggling is encouraged, although too much will get you yelled at.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cycling journal #3 - Sihanoukville to Bangkok

May 26 - Sihanoukville
After six weeks of anticipation, our moment finally arrives and we pedal our bikes to the edge of the Gulf of Thailand. It’s the Cambodian beach, which is said to be half-rate compared to the Thai beach, but we love it. We take a day cruise to an adjacent island and jump from the upper deck into the warm, blue waters, we wander the gaudy tourist strip where we’re offered coupons for half-price buckets after midnight (as if we’ll be up past midnight), and we eat fresh grilled seafood with waves practically lapping our toes. We are happy; we are at the beach.

May 27 - Sihanoukville to Trat
Since we only have a week left to cover a lot of ground, we decide to stick with the beach theme and follow the coast as much as we can back to Bangkok. We start our southern swing, as we call it, by boarding a bus to the border. A short day on the bus will save us three days of biking, so we gladly fork over the money to get us a hundred kilometers into Thailand.

We’re both amazed at how much different the bus feels from our bikes, the difference of four wheels from two. From our air-conditioned perch high above the traffic and roadside scrub the views are broad and they whiz by at incredible speed. The experience is sterile and removed, and reminds me of window shopping. The shared intimacy between biker and countryside is completely absent. Thirty minutes into the trip rain starts to fall in thick, heavy sheets and we give ourselves a congratulatory high five. The biking looks miserable - maybe the lack of intimacy isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Getting our bikes onto the bus in Sihanoukville is a small battle, but an expected one that’s easily resolved with a short negotiation and a few thousand extra riel. For whatever reason, people in the transportation industry in this part of the world have a mental block concerning bicycles as cargo. You can show up with eight large duffel bags and no one blinks, but they see a bicycle and they start hyperventilating at the hassle.

Everything goes smoothly until we reach the border, when the fiasco begins. We have to change buses between Cambodia and Thailand on foot, clearing both immigration and the swarming touts that populate the no mans land between the two countries. We have onward tickets, but sorting out the correct agent from the scrum that engulfs us the second we step off the bus takes a little while, and when we do find him he’s not excited about the bikes. Despite the fact that we specifically asked the ticket seller back in town about bringing bikes along, the reality on the ground is not as advertised. “This isn’t Cambodia,” the transfer agent sneers, “you can’t just stuff things into the vans.” This Thai contempt towards Cambodia becomes a common theme upon our return to Thailand, but remains a mystery for the remainder of our stay.

We progress from nonchalant, to incredulous, to pleading, to irate, and finally to congenial as we try to convince him that our bikes are clean and compact. We’re being mostly honest but we know it shouldn’t be a big deal. Nothing works, not even money, and the agent becomes angry. We’re mostly confused by this point, since we’re the ones who should be upset, not him, but we try and start over. We’ve now attracted a sizable crowd and a particularly helpful German girl suggests we ride our bikes from the border, just cut our losses and move on. “Right, hadn’t thought of that one,” I tell her. I turn away before anything else comes out. I have to physically restrain Abby from lunging at the smiling twit.

The agent finally relents some by offering us a partial discount and some suggestions for our onward transit. We take the money and move on, settling for a mixture of pleasant biking, delicious smoothies, and a long ride in a shared pick-up taxi that gets us to our final destination for the same total cost, albeit with a bitter residue still tainting our mouths. That’s quickly rinsed away when we find a boutique hotel that has an action movie motif. We debate back and forth between Batman and Transformers but eschew the Dark Night for Autobots in a show of wheeled solidarity. We celebrate our success with a meal at the night market where a jittery Italian expat joins our table and proceeds to rail about the decline of Cambodia in a tweaker rage. It’s been an eventful return to Thailand.

May 28 - Trat to Laem Sing
I spend the night running back and forth to the toilet, purging myself of any scrap of food ingested in the past week and a half, it seems. Optimus Prime provides a calming, reassuring presence throughout the ordeal. I’ve been suffering from the cyclical runs, and by cyclical I don’t mean bicyclal, b/ut diarrhea that flares up every 2-3 days. Just when I start getting concerned, it stops of its own accord and things return to normal, only to storm back unexpectedly when I least expect it. It’s lead to some very close calls. It's become annoying enough that I finally cave and decide to follow my wife’s advice to seek medical attention before we leave town. “What, are you a nurse?”, I ask.

We follow the bright, shiny signs to the bright, shiny hospital, and are met at the door by a well-dressed greeter. It kind of feels like we’re rolling up to a 5-star hotel (or what I presume it would feel like to roll up to a 5-star hotel). We have our bikes valet-parked, and the lady greeter patiently guides us through the process of registering to see a doctor. She’s very pleased by our visit, and can't stop smiling.

After a short wait a nurse ushers us in to see the doctor, who listens knowingly as I describe my symptoms before asking if I’d like to be admitted. “Why, do you think I should be admitted?”, I ask nervously. I really don’t FEEL that sick, I think to myself. No, no, it’s not necessary, she assures me, but it’s an option if I want. My choice, she tells me. I contemplate the odds that the rooms here have cable television and what the food is like before politely declining. I bet the portion sizes are tiny.

Abby is rather uncertain how to go about being a patient’s chaperone. She’d much rather be the patient or the nurse, but not the awkward accessory. Every time a nurse comes to take me for a different test, she asks if I need company, gathers all of our stuff, and hurries to catch up, bags bundled awkwardly in her arms. The first time the nurse leads me all of twenty feet across the waiting room to a station on the side wall, to take my blood pressure and weight. It turns out this one could have been managed solo, but it’s funny since the communication with the nurses is very basic, so there’s no way of knowing what’s really going on until it happens. The nurse goes ahead and takes Abby's measurements, too, since she made the effort to come along. Her results earn an enthusiastic thumbs-up from MY (strike-out) our nurse.

I get some blood drawn and am given a vial for a stool sample. Abby declines to offer her company for this task, opting instead to enjoy the hospital’s complimentary coffee and to read up on medical tourism. I’m a little bit hurt. I make several visits to the bathroom over the course of an hour and a half, but on cue, the faucet has shut off. I can’t make a poo to save my life, and all I’m doing is making diamonds. By the time I concede defeat, Abby’s decided on either a pre-emptive mastectomy or a precautionary root canal. “Why not”, I say. They’re both apparently very cheap.

We’re happy to be back in Thailand, where services are generally better and standards are higher. The hospital is legitimately nice. We’re happy, that is, until we get the bill for the hospital visit. “We should have gone to a clinic in Cambodia,” I mutter to myself. “Either that or a 5-star hotel,” Abby chimes in from the peanut gallery, a satisfied I-told-you-so smile gracing her lips. Apparently I didn’t mutter quietly enough. I get a course of azithromycin, a printout of my blood work, and big smiles from everyone involved with my care for the cost of $160. It’s official, Thailand is not a third world country.

In the afternoon we turn off the main highway and make for the coast on a secondary road. It’s one of the nicest stretches we’ve cycled so far, a narrow, undulating track winding through orchards bursting with ripe fruit. Some of the fruit we recognize, some we don't. It’s clearly harvest season, since every time we stop at a roadside stand we leave stuffed to the gills with watermelon, or rambutan, or mangosteen, yet barely lighter in the wallet. The vendors must all be in cahoots to fatten up the farangs for some mystery foreigner sacrifice in the near future. We make a pact to not leave Thailand before we’ve sampled all the mystery fruit we’ve encountered so far.

We eventually arrive at the beach town of Laem Sing, which has a mediocre beach and a string of overpriced seafood restaurants, but we don’t care - we’re at the beach! We go for a swim, eat our fill of barbecued squid and watch the sunset from a deck chair overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. The squid is embraced internally, and there is no need for Autobots to stand guard as we sleep soundly through the night.

May 29 - Laem Sing to Chao Lao
Abby gets bit by a mosquito as she waits for me to finish packing up after breakfast. She spends the rest of the day worrying about dengue fever. “It had striped legs,” she explains patiently. “Those are the dengue ones.” She asks me if I know what to do if she comes down with the disease. “Yes,” I tell her confidently, “R.I.C.E.” She glares.

Yesterday it was barking dogs. For some reason she read a blog post about a biker in Turkey who got mangled by a pack of huge sheep dogs and needed ambulances and interpreters and surgeries and weeks and weeks of recovery time. I’m not that concerned about the yapping toy chihuahuas that “hound” our trip, but the look of terror in my wife’s eyes as she pedals furiously away from any and all stray dogs, her life dependent on it, is a regular source of entertainment for me.

Fifty kilometers from Laem Sing, a loud bang startles the quiet countryside and my rear tire starts hissing angrily. I have a blow out. We push our bikes to the nearest shade, and a lady comes out to meet us. She quickly gets impatient with my unsuccessful attempts at repair, and disappears down the road on her moto, my tire in hand. We sit in the cool shade, drinking the water she brought us until she returns, dejected. We’re on our own.

I manage to piece the tire back together using all of our remaining patches, but there an obvious bulge where the hole is, and the wheel wobbles noticeably with every revolution. The sound is obscured by other noises I go fast enough, so I bike faster in order to relax. Ten kilometers further on, the patch job fails, but this time we’re in a small beach town with a moto repair shop across the street on the corner. The beach is visible from the road, a long crescent with endless views. We look at each other and decide wordlessly to spend the night. This is exactly why we chose this route, and we spend the afternoon jumping happily into the meager surf. We venture out past the sand bar to find some bigger swells but are waved back in frantically by locals who mime rip tides at high tide, so we resort to drinking beer and watching the sun set through a golden haze. We drink to our fast-disappearing adventure.

May 30 - Chao Lao to Patthaya
My rear tire explodes with a bang and a slow fizzle twenty kilometers into our coastal ride. I take a look and it’s not pretty. There’s now an inch hole in the surface of the tread, and the ruptured, distended tube is oozing from the opening. There will be no repairs this time, I fear. The explosion happens as I’m following closely behind Abby, about to tell her that her tire is also flat. We take this as an omen that perhaps our biking days are behind us. “We’ve been Skookum’ed,” she exclaims with delight, and we laugh heartily for a short moment until we realize the full magnitude of what that might entail. Our laughter comes to an uncomfortable halt and we share a moment of silence for our departed friend.

Our discomfort disappears when we realize that we’ve broken down directly in front of a VW dealership (strike-through) a police station and that we no longer own a VW van. In front of the police station is a gaggle of laughing men, sitting in the shade of a large tree. They watch us curiously for close to a half hour as we try in vain to hitchhike, and then decide to see what the crazy farangs are doing.

The whole gang saunters over to us, and crowds around our broken bikes. Although they’re obviously associated with the police station, no one is actually dressed in a police uniform, and none of them really look like cops. In fact, one of them is shirtless, a short, tanned, muscled man whose entire upper body is covered in tattoos of fishing scenes surrounded by patterns that look like the desert night sky. The tattoos cover his entire torso and arms, and look incredible. Around his neck is an enormous canine tooth on a lanyard, which I’m sure he wrestled directly from a tiger’s mouth as it snapped and snarled at him in pain and frustration.

We show them our two flat tires, and they hold an impromptu meeting to discuss our options. We are not invited. I’m hovering around the edges, trying to explain that a motorcycle tire repair shop won’t do and that I need a completely new tire of an odd size which requires a well-stocked bicycle shop. I try to tell them that it complicated. For whatever reason, it’s just not getting through. They’re debating which tire repair shop is closest when I finally lose patience, grab my destroyed tire, and show them the gory injury. The conversation stops as the evidence sinks in, and then resumes again, louder this time, as they try to solve this new dilemma. The discussion continues for another minute and then a spokesperson is elected who walks over to us. I’m pretty sure he speaks only two words of English. “No English,” he says happily, by way of greeting.

The solution entails a ride for us and our bikes in the back of a pick-up to the nearest tire repair shop, which is actually some distance away. Conversation on the way is sparse, but the silence is easily filled with the sound of us noisily eating the bag of rambutans we are given as we climb into the truck. They are sweet and delicious, and it’s fun to throw the shells out of a moving police vehicle. It makes us feel powerful, flaunting rules this way, from a cop car, no less. As we’re drunk with our newfound power, we pass a big transport truck with three men literally sitting on top of the cab. One of them nonchalantly throws his styrofoam lunch box into the path of our oncoming truck and nothing happens. No one even flinches, the policemen keep driving. We’re crushed; our power is an illusion.

The man at the tire repair shop can't help us, and there’s no bicycle shop in town, so we ask to be dropped off at the bus station instead. We look at the map and realize our best bet is to go to a town big enough to have a western-style bike shop but still on our route. We've lost enough time by now that we’ll have to miss some riding, so we choose Pattaya.

Two hours later, the minibus pulls over on a busy street somewhere in the nondescript sprawl of uptown Pattaya, and the driver informs us it’s our stop. “Pattaya?”, we inquire, and he nods in agreement. That helps us a little, but only a very little - it’s a long sprawling city and we have no map. We follow up with the most pertinent question, “Beach?” He nods again, this time more eagerly, and then launches into an extended speech in Thai, gesturing enthusiastically the whole time before finishing with a big smile. We smile back vapidly, completely oblivious to whatever information he was trying to convey. It’s obvious that useful directions will not be forthcoming so we abort the mission by thanking him profusely and get off the bus, collecting our bikes from the back.

With a honk and a wave, the minibus disappears into the congested traffic, leaving us and our pile of gear on the crowded sidewalk to sort out where we are. I start reassembling my bike and loading it back up when a nervous knot appears in my stomach. I look around and confirm my suspicions. “Damn it,” I sigh. “Hey Abby, guess what?” She answers quickly, too quickly for my liking. “You forgot your passport?”, she says. “Ha-ha.” I’ve lost my passport on three different occasions in our ten years of traveling together, so it’s not a bad guess, although an annoying one. “No”, I reply, “my helmet.” She shakes her head sadly and then proceeds to rub it in. “I told you to check for everything. What's wrong with you?” I have no good answer, but before I can come up with a bad one, she beats me to it. A rueful smile touches her lips and she lets out a little giggle. “You know what I forgot? My water bottle. Damn.” I claim victory based on holding the moral high ground. Karma, you know?

We call the number on the bus ticket which puts us in touch with the lady who sold us our tickets who also happens to speak good English. She calls the driver and twenty minutes later my brain is safe again while Abby's thirst is quenched. We celebrate by ending the day on another beach.

May 31 - Pattaya to Bang Saen
It’s hot every day. It’s been hot every day for two months, but some days are hotter than others. Ayutthaya was a furnace, Luang Prabang was like a steam room, and Siem Rep was almost unbearable. It’s not as hot as it was, but it’s still hot. In northern Laos it was so hot that the sun melted the tar into thick puddles that stuck to our tires and made loud ripping noises as they left deep tracks proving our passage. It’s not that
hot, but it’s still hot.

We began our trip under the false pretense that we were tough. Two nights with a fan room quickly cured us of that misconception, however. Ever since, it’s been air-conditioning. Every now and then we forget our lesson and get a fan room again, and then toss and turn miserably through the endless, sticky night and wake up grumpy about the hot, sweaty, relentless ride ahead. That’s not tough, that’s stupid. Lately, we’ve been cranking the air-con so high (low?) that we sleep with blankets to stay warm. It’s delicious, the cold, but short-lived. Every morning when we open our door to leave, the heat and humidity are lying in wait to ambush us with a slap in the face, an actual physical assault that reminds us of where we are and prepares us for the day.

The beach makes the heat tolerable, which is why the past few days have been so exciting. The water is more of a tepid bath than a refreshing plunge, but it still offers a magical respite. Biking, it’s actually not that bad. You create your own breeze, and the faster you go, the cooler you are. The drawback is that the second you stop, it’s waiting to ambush you again, only worse than in the morning because now you’re hot from the exercise as well.

Most days Abby gets so hot that she says her brain is baking inside her skull. Any stop, regardless of the length, needs to be shaded, and our walking excursions turn into ninja training as we practice escaping detection by the evil Sensei Sunshine. She commando rolls from shade tree to shade tree, ducking under passing umbrellas and strategically using whatever cover is available. I struggle to keep up and wonder if maybe she needs to come clean about her prior training as an assassin.

Pattaya is hot, too, but it has lots of beaches, a sea breeze, and it rains the afternoon we visit. It's known as Thailand’s beach Sin City, more so even than Bangkok, but again we’re left scratching our heads at the perceived bad rap. Every place we’ve been told to hate we’ve loved, and this is no different. It’s not the best town, granted, but it's exciting and easy and beautiful enough and full of expats. It’s a cheap and exotic version of Florida.

After spending the morning looking trying to find some trouble, we decide that most of the sinning must happen between the hours of midnight and 8 am, while we were sleeping, since the X-rated factor is all boarded up on our exploration. We move on, keenly aware of our Bangkok deadline.

The road comes and goes from the coast, passing through mudflats, then shrimp farms, then industrial ports and finally back to beaches again. We stumble upon a guesthouse and bar a little off the beach that looks nice and advertises cheap rooms but doesn’t appear to get many guests. The receptionist is very surprised when we inquire about a room and eyes us warily. It’s not an unwelcoming look, instead conveying her confusion at the sudden appearance of the dirt bag gringo set at her front door. She obviously considers us a novelty and pays special attention, peppering us with questions whenever we come or go and smiling in wonderment when we tell her about our trip.

June 1 - Bang Saen to Bangkok
We cycle the final 100 kms back into the chaos of Bangkok. We’re excited and sad and nervous all at once. The traffic builds and builds until it plugs the roads completely and we resort to weaving our way through the endless rows of cars, following the motorcycles through the gaps and spaces as they appear and disappear like leads in pack ice. It requires focus and intensity and familiarity with your bike and I feel strong and confident as I lead us deeper and deeper into the heart of the mayhem. It turns out to be very manageable after two months of southeast Asian traffic, and fun.

We find our hotel, jump in the pool, then make arrangements to sell our bikes on Craigslist. Unfortunately, our rides won’t be coming home with us. In total, they carry us more than 3500 kms through Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, and it’s a sad parting. A pregnant expat couple from Calgary become their new owners, and it’s apparent the bikes’ lives are about to get a whole lot easier. It feels like we're putting them out to pasture.

Abby’s practically falling asleep in her soup at dinner, but I’m still hungry and amped up from the traffic slalom so decide to head to the local market for a second dinner. The entire city comes alive after dark, and the streets around our hotel were alive with the bustle of dozens of vendors setting up their wares in anticipation of the nighttime rush on our way by this afternoon. On my way to the market I stumble upon a giant outdoor sports arena, filled with Thais playing any and all sports in the (relatively) cool night air. There’s volleyball, soccer, badminton, even tennis. And there’s beautiful, beautiful basketball, two full courts under the lights. I try to contain my excitement as I flip-flop my way nonchalantly over to the court and check out the action under the guise of taking photos.

When the game is finished, I ask if I can play and everyone is very enthusiastic at the prospect. I borrow a pair of shoes - no socks - and take the court. I’ve been doing nothing but cycling for two straight months, including a long day today. It isn’t pretty. I dream of nailing my first three when I step on the court with not a stitch of warm up, but I finish the night with way more more blisters (4) than points (0), and more air balls than everyone else combined. I do white basketball players the world over a disservice. The other players all remain very enthusiastic, despite my play. I’m sad when the lights are cut off at 9 pm and everyone leaves.

Tomorrow we have some last-minute souvenir shopping, an appointment for a Thai massage, and then a final night out at Pleasantville before it's homeward bound. I’m melancholy as I confront the end of our trip. I stop for a Beer Chang at the closest 7/11 on my way home and sit on the side of the busy street for a long time and watch life pass by. The lights and traffic and people and food smells sound energy are unending and intoxicating and I want to sit there forever and drink it all in. There's nothing particularly noteworthy about what lays before me, it's just life, beautiful, busy, bustling life. Each person I see has their own story, their own life, and they're all interwoven into the impossibly complex tapestry that I'm currently admiring. None of the individual threads need to be at all extraordinary to make up the most unimaginable whole. I love it; I could sit here forever. Life at home doesn't have nearly this same hold on me, the same fascination and power and curiosity, perhaps because it's too easy and familiar.

My beer is empty too soon, and I close my eyes to imprint the scene in my brain. I eventually get up and leave, walking slowly away from it all, happy to know that behind me, lives go on.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The End is Near

Suddenly, out of nowhere it seems, we have only ten days left in our trip.

Shit. How did this happen? Just yesterday, we were setting out on our bikes, taking those first few tentative pedal strokes away from Bangkok with ten weeks and all of Southeast Asia ahead of us. No more. Now we're left with than less than two weeks to get our fill of all those things we've grown to love, and check off the remaining things we hoped to do. Suddenly, time matters. Suddenly, days count. The end draws near.

It's been looming on the horizon for a while now, the end has, but has now finally emerged from it's cocoon in our future and hatched full-grown into our present, completing it's inevitable and necessary backwards life cycle. Unfortunately, it didn't morph into a mesmerizing butterfly that fluttered gracefully (if a little erratically) into the past. Instead, it's hatched as a neurotic moth that won't stop slamming itself into our heads repeatedly, skittering every which way all around. It refuses to leave us alone, and is making damned certain that we don't forget about it for even a moment.

The event that prompted the hatching was last night, when we pulled out our maps and started planning the rest of our route. We quickly arrived at the only-slightly-unexpected-but-still unpleasant realization that we are still a long way from Bangkok and there are a lot of beaches between there and here. We counted up the days to stop at the places we wanted, added a few layovers for end-of-trip relaxing, and were astonished at how big the number was. Comparing that number to the calendar in front of us did not arrive at a favourable outcome.

To make matters worse, we then realised we have even less time than we thought. We checked our flight info, just to be sure we knew how long we had left, and found out our flight is two days earlier than anticipated. In a heart beat, we lost two days. Instead of two weeks, we have twelve days. And we need at least a couple of days in Bangkok to sell our bikes and take care of last minute errands, which leaves us at ten. Ten measly days. We've been looking forward to our southern swing along the coast of Cambodia and Thailand since we first imagined a bike tour, and now that it's here, we don't have enough time to relax and enjoy it. Curse our overambitious selves!

We're now stuck in the awkward no man's land between carefree travel and a return to the home we left behind. It's a transition from the world of unimpeded exploration into the narrower world of involuntary compromise. We can no longer follow any path to see where it leads, but now have to cross out half the options before we even begin. I hate doing that. It's my least favourite part of each trip, an in-between time where my mind is split between both places but present in neither. I want to enjoy the last bit of our travels, to continue to immerse myself in the experience of being abroad, but it's impossible not to start thinking about the excitement and demands our return home will bring. Where will we live? What kind of car should we buy? How will we make money? What should we get Dennis and Heidi for their wedding?

These questions push themselves to the forefront of my mind and not even the most beautiful tropical paradise can push them away. How am I supposed to let my mind be still and soak up the peacefulness of my surroundings when I'm about to step back into the maelstrom of a life I've tried my best to ignore for almost a year? Don't get me wrong, it's a good life, but I left it behind on purpose, on my own terms. I want to return to it on my own terms as well, but this always proves difficult. I want the butterfly, but I get the moth.

Perhaps a better way to look at the time we have left might be as a separate trip from the one we've been on, a sort of "vacation addendum". Lots of people go on ten-day vacations and consider them big trips, which they actually are. Our friends Dan and Amy just left the other day on a ten-day bike tour through Austria. It's a real vacation, complete with an itinerary, flights across the Atlantic, even bikes, and they're happily posting excited updates to Facebook every chance they get. They're taking advantage of every single moment and wringing every last drop of adventure from their time away. We, on the other hand, are lying listlessly in our hotel room, ruing the dreaded 6 am wake up call from Abby's watch since it means getting back on our bikes and pedaling into the sun and heat.

Maybe we do need a vacation. Maybe that way we can trick the moth entirely and avoid the transition thing altogether. Yeah, let's officially call our trip at an end, and embark on an immediate (and adjacent) ten-day beach-biking vacation starting tomorrow. It's a bit sudden, I know, but we could use some spontaneity in our lives and it will be nice to get away from all of the stress we've been under. It' a chance to kick back, relax, and not worry about the things at home. We have the right setting, but I fear it doesn't work that way. And besides, I'm too excited to get home. Instead, I guess I'll just have to settle for debating the merits of a Toyota over a Honda as I sip my dollar margarita and watch the ochre sun slide slowly into the turquoise sea. Bummer.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Cycling Journal #2 - Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang

April 17- Chiang Mai to Hot Springs. 
Songkram is finally over, allowing us to take care of the errand list we’ve been patiently saving up. It’s been a fun few days of water fights and easy living, but we’re eager to get back on the road. Our bikes aren’t going to pedal themselves. Before we can leave, however, I need my camera shutter fixed, and we need new rear tires for both of our bikes. We tackle both errands quickly (saving ourselves enough time for two trips to the coffee smoothie lady) and are pedaling away from our four day mini-vacation before noon.

It’s a sweet ride through the mountains, up through national parks and into undeveloped jungle. We also pass a goat farm that serves goat milk ice cream collected from a very curious herd (see picture). Unfortunately, our late start comes back to haunt us and dusk finds us far from any town. We realize our predicament too late and try to get off the road before dark, but the pickings are slim: either $150 for a cabin at an upscale honeymoon resort, or a spot on the floor of the national park staff lodging. We’re hoping the park staff are eager to help us out, but it’s obviously awkward so we choose to pedal into the coming night. It’s a little nerve-wracking biking on a dark highway with minimal shoulder, high speed traffic, and dinky lights, but it turns out to be a fast and exciting 10 km cruise all downhill to the next guesthouse, and we make it in 2 pieces (1 piece each).

April 18- Hot Springs to Chiang Rai. 
The rest of the ride to Chiang Rai is pretty flat and we cruise effortlessly into town. Chiang Rai itself is nice, and much less of a scene than Chiang Mai, although it has a surprisingly big backpacker ghetto compared to what the Lonely Planet has to say. I’m starting to feel like the guidebook is consistently outdated even though it only came out last year. I'm also starting to wonder if Lonely Planet has a good business plan for staying relevant in the age of smart phones and wifi, as way more people are checking their phones than are pulling out their guidebooks.

There’s a great night market here, selling mostly hot pots, beer on tap, and fried food. The market is set up in a large square, with all the vendors around the outside encircling a huge courtyard seating area, complete with a stage and live entertainment. Is it entertainment if the singing hurts your ears? Most of the patrons are Thai, and we see some eating a mushroom dish that sets Abby to drooling. When we inquire as to the name, we get a mouthful of gibberish which we then mangle, so one of them gets up from his dinner, walks us to the vendor, and does the ordering for us. He hits a home run and we waddle home stuffed full of fungal love.

April 19- Chiang Rai to Phaya Meng Rai. 
We leave Chiang Rai late, just before noon. It’s really hot by now, but the leisurely morning is worth it to eat a good breakfast and allow Abby time to determine if she’s up for the ride. A spot of bother hit during the night, so she’s a little apprehensive about the bike ride. Luckily, it’s only planned as a short day, so we press on, to Phaya Meng Rai. We take our time to travel the easy 60 km and end up at a quaint little cabin with air-conditioning and a fridge, just on the edge of town. The fridge is nice because it means we get to start the day with cold fruit (our standard breakfast) and cold water. One blog we found recommended the place, which is odd in retrospect since it’s the only place in town. And the only town for miles. He also mentioned that it rented by the hour and sure enough, there’s a sign posted right on the wall explicitly stating that hourly rentals “must be out of the room in less than 2 hours.” No romance here, just do the deed and be done!

One hour and fifty-eight minutes after we check-in, we leave for dinner. We’re both starving, a now-permanent element of our bike tour. We hit a local rice restaurant, and afterward discover that neither one of us brought any money, so I convince the owner to let us out on bond. I assure her that I will return, and though she gives me a bit of a grimace she seems more focused on the karaoke going on next door so it’s no big deal. She waves us away impatiently. When we get back to our little love shack, Abby’s insides are still a little undecided but mine are proclaiming their continued hunger, loudly. She stays behind, to soothe her internal conflict, while I solo into town, pay the rice lady, and cruise by the night market.

Sadly, the “night market” turns out to be a table with two women selling home-cooked meals in plastic bags, so I take a pass. Not so sadly, I’m waved over to a group of Thai women and am offered a shot of local whiskey as they get patently drunk. It’s surprisingly good, but I have a hunger that can’t be ignored, even for free booze. I’ve also got a sick wife who wouldn’t be thrilled if I showed up hours after planned, wasted. I hit up the noodle man beside the 7/11, and make both him and me happy by ordering two bowls of soup which I then devour loudly while watching Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) with the locals. It’s fast, violent, and awesome. I return to my wife, full, and discover her smiling and content. Tomorrow, we head to Laos.

April 20 - Phaya Meng Rai to Huay Xai.The trip to the border is completely uneventful, except for when we stop at a roadside vendor to buy a pineapple. Their pick-up truck is overflowing with beautiful, impossibly fragrant fruit, and our bikes roll to a stop without so much as a conscious thought. The lady makes a point to pick out the best one, and then cuts it into slices and hands it to us in a bag. She uses a technique we’ve never seen before, grasping the stem like a handle, and carving long strips in a circle until she's holding nothing but the core. We devour the whole thing - it’s quite possibly the best pineapple we've ever tasted.

The border straddles the Mekong River,and you need to take a boat across. We make a final stop on the Thai side to spend our remaining Baht since the coins will only weigh us down once we cross into Laos - every ounce counts! Really, I just want a snack. Thankfully, there’s a 7/11 on the main drag so we get a bonus blast of a/c in addition to an ice cold Big Gulp. We wonder if 7/11 has invaded Laos yet, and agree that the unfortunate answer is likely no. When the refreshments are done, we head down to the river, load our bikes onto a little ferry boat, and enter a new country. The first thing confronting us once we set foot on shore is a big poster at the entrance to the customs post. It’s a cartoon with different boxes that graphically illustrates the Do’s and Don’ts for invading foreigners. Basically, the entire poster is a warning to dirt bags to not be dirt bags. This could get interesting.

For the first time ever, I end up paying more for a visa than Abby. In fact, I end up paying more for a visa than anyone from any other country in the world. What could Canada possibly have done to piss off the Laotian government so much - carpet bombed the hell out of the country for a decade in an illegal secret war? Oh, that wasn't us? It's really weird, but it's only an extra ten bucks (plus a dollar for crossing on the weekend), so it's no big deal. We are granted a month stay.

April 21 - Boat ride from Huay Xai to Pak Beng. 
After crossing into Laos yesterday, we take a day off from biking and spend the day cruising down the Mekong River on the slow boat. This is good, because our new tires are now four days old, and have a combined six punctures. The patch kit we bought in Chiang Mai is mostly used up and it’s become clear that tires are not a good place to save money.

We're both ecstatic to be on the water all day as it’s been ages. The boat is called a long-tail, and is shaped like a dart. It’s long and lean, and seems rather tippy but the luggage gets stowed below and the stability improves. It’s surprisingly full of gringos, with only a few locals sprinkled in for seasoning - we were expecting the slow boat to be the opposite. Before we push off, a Lao man with a badge around his neck gets everyone’s attention and launches into a safety briefing. It seems legit until he starts sounding dire about the situation at the place where we’ll disembark - it’s “dark, very dangerous, and full of aggressive touts.” He then announces that he has access to guesthouse reservations, so “who needs a room?”. To our astonishment, a bunch of people fall for it and end up paying twice as much as they should. He steps off the boat just as the lines are thrown, money in hand, and we push off into the current.

The Mekong is big, fast, and diarrhea brown. I wanted to describe it as “chocolate brown”, and in fact even had it typed out as such, but my conscience wouldn’t let me get away with it. It’s not an attractive color. Aside from that, it’s really nice. It’s much more rugged than I imagined, and reminds me a lot of the Copper River back home, but busier. There’s constant traffic in both directions, with barges being towed upstream and little speed boats zipping between the bigger boats and the rocks. I try hard to get a picture of one of speedboats, but they’re too fast. They make an odd sight, the little cabinless outboard ski boats rocketing along, drivers and passengers protected from wildlife and water by full face motocross helmets. Apparently, they crash a lot.

Pak Beng, where the boat spends the night, is indeed a bit of a gong show, but a very manageable one. It’s a single strip of road that’s packed wall-to-wall with guesthouses and restaurants, all catering to the daily influx of boat passengers. Most people continue on to Luang Prabang on day two, but we won’t be continuing with them, and instead will pedal inland and take three or four days to arrive at the same destination. The boat disgorges passengers just before dinner, and everyone rushes up the road looking for a cheap place to stay, then eats dinner and crashes out. In the morning, everyone grabs breakfast and snacks, and reboards the boat to continue their voyage south. No one is here to visit, so the poor villagers deal with the exact same cheap backpackers looking for a deal (dirtbags unite!) every single night. Tonight it’s our turn, tomorrow a new group. We agree it would get really old, really fast, but spirits seem high amongst the local guest house owners. Good for them.

Listening to dinner conversation turns out to be the highlight of a full day. The potential couple at the table beside us is trying to feel each other out, and animatedly discussing the appropriate emotional attachment to a one-night stand. He’s 21 and got the world figured out. She looks a little bit older, and has a slightly bemused look on her otherwise eager face. He’s adamant that what happens between the sheets should stay there while she is much less certain. After the bill, they leave together; either he’s looking for more or she’s looking for less. By the time WE leave, also together, although in an old and married for seven years kind of way, the main drag is full of drunken mayhem.

It’s really our first taste of this element of the backpacker scene since leaving Seattle in January, and it makes us feel old. We got a taste at Songkram, in Chiang Mai, but it was only an accessory to the local party. Here, it’s its own traveling roadshow, and it’s a harsh reintroduction. It mostly consists of youngsters discovering themselves at the expense of the local culture. Self-discovery is a wonderful and worthy thing, as is a good piss-up, but the party is completely removed from its surroundings, untethered to the lives of those making it possible. It’s annoying, and crass, and I want to tell them to go to Cancun, or Goa, or better yet stay at home if all they want to do is get drunk and fuck. We agree they must not have seen the poster at the border asking them to restrain some of their dirtbaggedness.

April 22 - Pak Beng to Udomxai. 
We wake up at 5 am to the staccato sounds of a downpour on the tin roofs of the town. We’re planning an early start but the rain makes it an easy call so we roll over and go back to bed. The rooftop music stops too soon, and our guilt becomes unbearable as we try to sleep longer - our bikes beckon! Thanks to the precipitation, the weather is delightfully cool for a change, and the ride is a fast one up a long river valley full of farmland, mostly bananas. It’s also corn planting time, with groups out everywhere. One person walks slowly along a straight line, pacing carefully then poking holes with a long wooden stick. Others follow behind, seed bags draped over a shoulder, dropping a kernel into each divot. We’re surprised when the planting proceeds up the steep side of the valley but trust their judgement. They seem to know what they're doing.

We get to Udomxai just as night is falling, and take one of the first places we find. It's a little expensive for our price range, but we’re not eager to keep searching in the dark and anyway, it turns out to be a bargain! It’s got brand new owners from China, and they’re excited to host a pair of foreigners traveling by bicycle. They invite us to their family dinner (fresh noodles cooked by mom), and then on to beers and karaoke for dessert. Mom is bashful at first but is eventually convinced to sing a song. She starts off well but quickly gets tongue-tied at a tricky part, fumbles again, and finally is too embarrassed so hands the mic off to the receptionist. The receptionist is obviously used to the limelight, and has everyone looking up admiringly from their iPhones after the first few notes. Abby and I are encouraged to sing, but the Lao subscript poses too much of a challenge for even free beer to overcome. It’s a very good evening in a town our guidebook told us to give a wide berth.

April 23 - Udomxai to Pak Mong. 
We start the day with a long climb up into the jungle, with the sound of insects ripping through the still air like chainsaws.  I never knew they could be so loud! It's a beautiful ride with lots of tree cover and even a few small springs to cool our heads.  The road is beat up and tough going, which gets old the longer it goes on. The black top is broken every couple hundred meters, making for a mentally draining day since you can never relax for more than 20 seconds at a time. We occasionally pass through Hmong villages throughout the day, their bamboo huts lining the road on both sides. 

We finally meet a fellow biker, at dinner in Pak Mong. We were starting to wonder if we were the only ones out here in the heat. We’re excited about our accomplishment thus far, so we tell him about it. we've done over 1200 km in less than 3 weeks, things are going well, our first real go at bike touring, we’ve still got almost six more weeks, blah blah blah, etc. HE informs us he's been biking around the globe pretty much continuously for the past 19 years. He heads home for a few months every 6 or 7 years, checks on his house and renters, kisses his mother, then leaves again. He’s totally cool about it, and not pompous or a braggart, but we stop telling him about all the wonderfully discoveries we’ve made on our little mini-vacation. Thankfully, he unwittingly throws us a (very) small bone when he tells us he has a 72 kg bike, enabling us to regain a small measure of pride since we’re likely faster up the hills.

 Our room comes with satellite TV, so we’re trying to take advantage of it, in vain. Thai TV is terrible - 142 channels of junk. Not a single word of English to be found anywhere, and 90% of channels with either a cheesy talk show or Thai infomercials for aphrodisiacs. It turns out, you can buy sex pills on the shopping channel here. The abundance of useless programming sucks me in and I spend the next two hours flipping hopefully through all 142 channels, hoping for the elusive lost magical channel to suddenly appear. It never does.

April 24 - Pak Mong to Luang Prabang. 
Another day of hills, but on a much better road than yesterday, so we get some benefit out of the climbs in the form of long, fast downhills. At one point we have a 12 km downhill, uninterrupted. It's awesome, but seems too short when we reach the bottom and the inevitable climb back up. I've figured out that my bike has a speed wobble over 45 km/hr, where it starts shimmying and I have to hold on with both hands to keep it in control. It goes away somewhere around 60, but I haven't had nearly as much chance to dial in the upper threshold. So far my top speed for the trip has been 60.7 km/hr, and it seems really hard to get going any faster. As it was, I had to crouch aggressively over my handle bars, tuck my ass in tight, and will the hill to get steeper. Abby is content to let gravity do all of the work without any extra help, and often discourages it by throwing some additional friction at it. I don't understand.

We reach Luang Prabang and are reunited with the Mekong. It's much bigger, and less brown. It also forms the boundary of the city, which is a beautiful, leafy old colonial town. It has a thriving backpacker scene which is catered to by the locals. We gorge on fruit smoothies as we wander through the streets, feeling like we're no longer is Asia. Except for the heat. Sadly, e power of architecture does not extend to cooling climates. For dinner, we find a vegetarian dinner buffet which lets you heap a plate full of as much as it will fit for 10,000 kip (~ $1.35). The plates are those half plate/half bowl contraptions which help with the task, but early on I realize that strategy is important. I start out too eager, and am setting myself up for disaster so I step back, collect myself, and channel my inner engineer.

I put the heavy, solid foods around the edge and then slop the softer things inside. On top go the dense, solid items like spring rolls and deep fried tofu. The plate gets higher and higher and when it seems like it's getting TOO high, I start make eye contact with the owner every time I add another scoop, looking for a disapproving glare, or a sign to quit while I'm ahead. He doesn't blink, in fact I think he enjoys this part of the game and I have to walk slowly back to the table Abby has claimed to avoid spilling anything. I sit down with a proud smile on my face, very pleased with myself, and then a tiny little wisp of a girl sits down at the table beside ours with a plate mounded even higher. Abby openly laughs in my face, spewing vegan meatballs from her mouth in the process. I am humbled. Dinner is very good. For dessert, I buy half a chicken on a stick, and wash it down with another fruit smoothie. Everyone's happy.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The post you've all been waiting for - All About Thai Food!!

One of the reasons we wanted to come to Thailand was for the food. Sure, the beaches are epic, the wats are beautiful, the people never stop smiling, and you never have to wear more than a cute skirt and tank top, even at night. But let's be honest, food makes the world go round for Steve and I. Sampling the food in another country is an easy way to get to know the local people, the local language, and the local customs. We were excited to eat our way around the country, especially when we learned that the whole country basically eats on the street, at markets open day and night cooking up fresh, flavorful, and exotic dishes. We couldn't wait. It became even more exciting once we decided to explore the country on our bikes, which not only would give us faster access to those street vendors, but also appetites that would allow us to sample multiple dishes and desserts at each meal.

Abby: We began our journey in Bangkok, at Dan and Kim's place in Pleasantville. Pleasantville, is, well, pleasant, but the best part is that Thailand lies just outside its gates. With the much appreciated help of Bea, Dan and Kim's nanny, we were pointed toward the best street stalls and enjoyed perhaps the best Pad Thai and grilled fish I've ever eaten. It came with a spicy red sauce (akin to pico de gallo), fresh herbs, and leafs of lettuce. Bea taught us to take a leaf, fill it with the herbs, sauce and a bit of fish, roll it, and eat in one bite. Amazing! We bought a kilo of fresh mangos, a hand of baby bananas, and a whole watermelon home with us to complete our food victory. It was a good day.

Steve: A few days later, on our first day biking north from Bangkok, we had gotten a couple of hours from Pleasantville when I saw it for the first time: Rotisserie meat. My biggest weakness, dripping with glorious saucy juiciness on the side of the road. I slammed on my breaks, pranced up to the smiling Thai vendor, and asked her "how much for one?". Not that I cared how much it cost; there was no way I was going to pass up this slice of heaven, especially since I'd spent the last two months in Nepal, trying to be satisfied by the measly portions of meat that only seldom appeared on my plate. I sat down at the picnic table under her tarp as the sweat from my face began to make a puddle on the tablecloth in front of me. She followed with a huge chunk of roasted chicken, a delicious spicy red sauce, and a pile of rice. With a big smile on my face, I shoveled the perfectly cooked meat into my mouth, and swallowed it down with a Coke. Abby sat patiently, watching me devour my meal - she was still full from the fruit and yogurt gorge we'd had at Dan and Kim's before we left. I contemplated a second plate, but decided I should probably save myself for what might be around the next corner.

Abby: Eating has been a little more of a challenge for non-meaty tastes than I ever would have thought before arriving. In fact, I have to admit that after the first few days on the road I was more than a little bit crestfallen. Where were all of the delicious foods so prevalent at all the places at home? Where was the spicy eggplant, and steamed tofu, and brown rice? Of course I wasn't expecting the menu off my favorite vegan-friendly menu from home, but I wasn't prepared for meat in everything. I ordered a green papaya salad, it came with crumbled pork on top. I ordered a tofu stir-fry, it came with half a pig on the plate. I ordered a lemon soda, it arrived with a chicken-foot swizzle stick. It was becoming rather ridiculous. Steve was a happy and full tablemate. Finally, I couldn't handle it any longer and took matters into my own hands. Eschewing the menu completely, I walked directly up to the cook at one of our lunch spots, and began pointing to what I wanted and how I wanted it cooked. Lo and behold, it worked - gloriously! A plate of rice with a big pile of lightly fried veggies beside, all topped with an egg over easy. We were in business!

Steve: One word - fruit. Glorious, sweet, fresh fruit. It's available everywhere, and we've been indulging. Mangoes, bananas, watermelon, grapes, water apples, strawberries, pomelo, oranges, dragon fruit, plus a couple new ones. We tried mangosteen for the first time, based on a tip from a friend. It's smallish, purple-brown in color, and the inside is segmented and creamy white. It melts in your mouth, much like a ripe mango does, and has a wonderful sweet flavor to it. I've heard of it as a new hip additive to hippy supplements and health drinks at home, so we loaded up on them. Abby also tried dried longan berries, which she said tasted a bit like lychee or rambutan.

We also discovered fruit smoothies. You choose a mix of any fruit you like, and it's blended with crushed ice, and condensed milk and palm syrup if you'd like. The simpler ones are a bit more healthy, but the creamy, sugary ones are like thick milkshakes. Regardless of your choice, they are cold, cheap (20 baht, or about 75 cents), and amazing. At one night market, Abby ordered a strawberry smoothie. It was so good that she refused to share it, so I got my own. As I slurped up the final straw full, my eyes caught Abby's, and her nod affirmed my own thinking. We got a third to share as we wandered through the market, and tried for a fourth on our way home. Sadly, their stock of fresh berries had run dry, and I had to settle for a meat-on-a-stick snack instead.

Abby tried a banana coffee smoothie one morning after second breakfast, and was hooked. In fact, I was hooked as well. Yep, me, the coffee-hater, slurped down a coffee banana smoothie religiously every morning for the four days we were in Chiang Mai. I'm under Thailand's magical spell.

Abby: A magical spell, indeed! That shit's like crack!

As a respite from all of the water fighting in Chiang Mai over the Thai New Year, we took a cooking class. I really wanted Steve to go, seeing how he cooks 90% of my meals for me, but I was eager to tag along as well and see how many noodles I could burn. It turns out, you use as much oil as the instructor tells you and things come out great! We cooked pad thai, green curry, red curry, papaya salad, spring rolls, pad see we, tom yam soup, cashew chicken curry, and it was all shockingly easy. In fact, it was so easy that I really don't know why I don't cook more. Anyway, the entrees were spectacular, but the dessert is where it's really at. And in particular, mango sticky rice. If iced coffee smoothies are like crack, then mango sticky rice is like high-grade cocaine. I think.

Sticky rice is really common here, usually eaten with dinner. It's cooked plain, and tastes fine - like rice except sticky. However, pour some coconut milk and sugar onto it, reduce it to a gluey mess, and add some fresh sliced mango on top and you have arrived in heaven without any of the dying nonsense. I'm in love!

Steve: For good reason baby. My only complaint about Thai food is the portion sizes. The night stalls and sit down restaurants serve up cook-to-order cuisine for $1-2 a plate, but a plate doesn't fill me up. In fact, it doesn't even come close. It's partially due to the biking we've been doing, but as you all know, my appetite and willingness to eat large portions of food are legendary. At lunch, I need at minimum two dishes, usually a rice/meat concoction, and a noodle meat soup. Dinner requires three to four plates of food; sometimes the same dish from the same vendor, but often a sampling from several places. I like to think that I'm a grassroots investor in Thai street food, and I'm doing a pretty good job at it.

Abby: I disagree with my better half's erroneous assessment. One of the best things about Thai food is that they serve it in perfect portion sizes. You get a plate full of food, not too much, not too little. I'm always perfectly full after finishing my pad see ew or rice-egg-veggie or noodle veggie soup, never bloated. Occasionally I can squeeze in a smoothie or ice cream for dessert (ok, maybe a bit more often than occasionally), but that makes it even more perfect.

Steve: Perfection or not, too big or too small, what it really comes down to is that I'm hungry. Now. Let's go eat!

Abby: Gladly!

Note: It's probably obvious from the writing styles, but Abby's comments were written by Steve and vice versa. It's more fun that way.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Photos from Nepal

Here's a sampling of photos from our Nepal adventures, in no particular chronological order.  Enjoy!

Abby and Mary seeking out the sun during the January cold in Kathmandu.

Abby and Mary giving a lesson on head-to-toe assessments to an attentive Nepali nursing audience.
Maybe this bottle will help...
A monk walking past the prayer wheels at Swayumbunath Temple in Kathmandu.  The dragon's got his back.
Manaslu Valley traffic jam.

Heading over the Zatra La on our way to Mera Peak.  Our guide KB spent most of the 2 weeks with his hands in his pockets.  "You want to borrow a trekking pole?", we asked repeatedly.  "No," he'd answer every time, "it makes you reliant on them."  A 2-time Everest summiter, he doesn't want to get soft.
Noodle soup for dinner at Mera High Camp (5,800 m).
Football in the midst of the ruins in Durbar Square, Bhaktapur.
Finishing our Mera Peak expedition in style, with a foot of new snow.

Rhododendrons in bloom on the walk out from Lukla to Jiri.
The list of ailments was long and sordid.
Who loves goats?  Abby!  Abby!  Baby goats get additional love.
Mary spinning the prayer wheels on our way back down from Sama in Manaslu.

Andy with the snow-capped Manaslu Himal firmly behind us.
Andy preparing for a shave.  "Wow, that dude's about to put a razor to my neck."
A sunset view of the Annapurna range from Sarangkot, above Pokhara.
Walking through a rhododendron forest in the Annapurna foothills.  It really is as spectacular as advertised.
Sunrise over Macchapuchere (Fishtail Peak) in the Annapurna Sanctuary.
Abby going spoon shopping.  Her beloved Light My Fire brand spork broke in the middle of dinner.

"I just don't understand how any of us ever gets sick."  "Me neither, it's just weird."  "Moo..slurp..moo."

Morning puja by the teahouse staff in Sama, Manaslu.

Sunrise in Lho, festooned for Losar, the Tibetan New Year.

Fresh tomatoes and greens with dinner?  Certainly.

Annapurna Base Camp, Annapurna Sanctuary.

The owner of a snack shop taking a short break during the madness of Shivaratri at Pashuputinath, Kathmandu.  

Abby devising a plan to foil the monsters under her bed from the warmth of her sleeping bag at a teahouse in Tagnag.