What do elephants, green chicken curry and lady boys have in common? Chiang Mai. After a brief stop over in Bangkok, where we visited the Grand Palace, every Wat ever built, and met a fellow Stanford grad climbing one of the Wats, we flew to Chiang Mai to continue our adventures. Reservations? Not necessary. Reservations take away the mystery of searching for hostels, which allows you to penetrate deep into a native cultures hospitality industry, especially late at night. We recommend these searches when tired and hungry for maximum effect.
Popular amongst backpackers for the trekking and the happening local scene, Chiang Mai proved to be worth the trip. However, if riding elephants, whitewater rafting, learning how to cook Thai style and hanging out with the local promoter of beauty pageants (yes, all kinds) doesn’t sound like fun, then Chiang Mai is not for you.
Chiang Mai began with a search for food and a place to watch the Cup. As we walked towards the bar, we were getting a significant amount of attention, with several beautiful Thai girls smiling at us. Clark turned to Noel and said, “It looks like we brought our A gametonight. I am strongly considering wearing clean clothes more often.” And as the looks turned into compliments, Noel remarked “It appears we are the best looking guys in all of Chiang Mai. I guess bathing does help!” And yet…it was almost as if these woman were TOO friendly. In the back of our minds there was a small part of us that thought, “maybe it’s not that I am wearing clean socks.” Sure enough, within a few minutes after buying a beer (O’Doul’s for Clark) we realized that we had accidentally stumbled on Lady Boy alley central and instantly they were asking our names, where we were from, and every other question you could imagine. We caught the game but had to sprint home to avoid the attacks.
To spice things up we decided to take Chiang Mai by storm, culinary style. Tom Yum Gum? Check. Pad Thai? Handled. Drunken noodles? No problem. That’s right, there are two new Thai chefs that will be returning to SF shortly to display their skillz with a wok. If you are lucky, we just might cook up some authentic Thai cuisine for you (2 month prior booking required).
Cooking ... thai style
You would expect that to get scuba certified you just would throw down some cash, put on some flippers and dive in for some sweet aquatic viewage. Au contraire bonjour. NOT THE CASE. Try a four day intensive instructional course that requires skill work and corresponding demonstration of mastery, homework, videos and comprehensive testing. It’s difficult to describe how relaxing it is to be 10m under water and have someone turn off your air flow. But all in all it was incredible. Scuba diving is like nothing else – one moment you experience weightlessness and see things you have never imagined, the next moment you are humbled by the awesome power of the ocean. We highly recommend it.
In our only non scuba day on Lembongan, we surfed a nice break off the island and rented hovercrafts (which look similar to the Harley’s we rode before) and cruised around the island. On our adventure we crossed the world’s smallest and sketchiest pseudo-bridge, which had most of the wooden planks in place. At the end of the bridge we met Donnie, an 18 year old Balinese dude who turned out to be the nicest guy in Bali …well next to Nyoman of course.
Wanting only to improve his English (and to feel the firmness of Clark’s waist and large pectoral muscles) he took us on a personal tour to the blue lagoon (sans Brooke Shields) and showed us a few panoramic views of the island. Before we knew it, dusk was upon us and we were still far from home. After dropping Donnie off at his bridge we were a quick, dark, 10 min hover home. The 10 minutes quickly turned into a Gilligan esque 2 hour tour of the island with limited fuel, no light and no real idea where we were going. But with some help from the locals we made it back in one piece and we were off to Bangkok in the am.
Some more pics:
Pre SCUBA adventure
The Balinese Adonis...
Our scooter renter, Nyoman, moonlighted as a driver when he wasn’t changing money, hawking tourist trips, or giving hotel and diving recommendations and courteously gave us a ride to Ubud, a small mountain town an hour from Denpansar. Ubud is known as the cultural center of Bali, and is steeped in Balinese tradition. The local Ubudians cater to tourists curiosity and showcase Balinese culture every chance they get. Tourists snap photos and take videos of Bali dance performances performed in the middle of town (we have the pictures and videos to prove it). Ubud’s other main attraction is it’s rice paddies. Beautiful rice terraces hidden behind the city wall and nestled in the jungle dominate the landscape around Ubud and make it well worth the quick side trip. We scampered up the rice paddie trail and found a great place to have dinner … we were also welcome food for the mosquitos who love the stagnant water of the paddie. As Clark aptly put it, “if we are going to get Malaria, it is going to be right here in Ubud.”
The next day we bought tickets to Isla Flores, home of some of the greatest scuba diving Bali has to offer and also next to Nusa Komodo, the island made famous by the ancient komodo dragon. We showed up at our friendly tourist agency money in hand and ready to go. We promptly paid for our tickets and went to grab a quick bite before getting out of town. Psych! No plane tickets! The joke was on us. That’s how it goes in Bali, onto plan B.
Plan B involved a jaunt across the island to Sanur … We arrived at the Sanur Beach hotel to a rain storm and of course, a full hotel. After finally finding a place, we got pumped up for the US-Ghana game, conveniently on at 2:30 am, and went searching for a TV in the rain, narrowly avoiding a prolonged encounter with the Van of Sin… a dark, dank, junky van, door jar with a woman whispering things you wouldn’t want your children to hear … or anyone for that matter (I still don’t think Noel has recovered). We finally stumbled across a bar celebrating the baristas 30th bday and promptly popped in to watch the US lose a heart breaker in overtime (Some of you may not realize this, but America is no longer in the World Cup). That’s two times in a row that we’ve been ousted by Ghana, and we’ve decided that they are the new Russia … well at least of international soccer. By 5:00am we were ready for some sleep and in the morning we were off to Nusa Lembognan (30 minutes of the coast) for some SCUBA PADI certification, surfing and hopefully finding the chill zone.
Chill Zone: Medium
From Borneo we were anticipating the chill zone to be in full effect in the island paradise of Bali. We arrived in Denpansar to a slew of board shorts, surf boards and a mellow feel good vibe. With no place in mind we hastily made reservations at “The White Rose”. The website made it look appealing; 100 meters from the beach, lush tropical gardens, a beautiful infinity pool and best of all, cheap accommodations with free breakfast. Sign us up!
One hour by cab, and a nice dose of mind bending traffic later and we were in the heart of Kuta (the Cancun of SE Asia). Neon lights, prostitutes, drunk Aussies and pounding techno music dominated every inch of pavement and establishment. Yep, it was as relaxing as it sounds and unfortunately the chill zone was not in full effect…
The next morning we quickly changed hotels and ended up at the Kumala Pantai, which was top notch, cheap and on the beach. But there was one small problem. Every tourist in Bali had also heard of and made “reservations” at the Pantai. The front desk assured us that we wouldn’t have a problem staying there and indeed we didn’t, we just were forced to stay in four different rooms, in four different wings, over four days. Nevertheless, the Balinese people and the beautiful environment were hard not enjoy. We hit the beach immediately and eased into some “light” surfing, at a nice “beginner” beach break. It seemed harmless enough from the shore so we grabbed 2 boards and headed for the ocean. Five minutes later the set came in and we realized that “light” break really meant massive, punishing 10 foot waves, that left us gasping for air. In fact, if you ever want to know what it feels like to almost drown you should surf here. It was great.
Of course renting Harley’s was high on the list and a must do for any trip to Bali. So the next day we dodged and weaved our way through hectic Bali traffic, getting lost in it‘s maze of streets and trying our best to remember to drive on the LEFT side of the road. We took the Harley’s over to Kut De Ta, a posh bar on the beach frequented by the likes of Paris Hilton, Noel Rosencranz-Engelmann, JZ, and Clark Stephens (the paparazzi were in full force). We conquered another punishing surf break by getting … punished. A few hours later we had a nice dinner with Lauri, a Stanford grad working in Bali on environmental conservation and then it was onto the bar to see the US produce some late game heroics and advance to the round of 16.
Chill Zone: Medium
Not many people are familiar with the jungles of Borneo. It is a lush, wild and rainy jungle, that is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. They key word here is rain. Lots of it. Imagine Seattle and then multiply it by 10 in terms of water intensity and you have Borneo, minus the coffee shops.
The highlights were a boat trip through massive swells to an island off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, the orangutan preserve, a jungle/river wildlife tour, a 7 hour bus ride featuring 7 hours of kung foo videos (back to back to back) and the seafood night market (which is unlike anything else, the closest thing rivaling it is ironically Pikes Market – the similarities between Seattle and Borneo are starting to become erie).
Orangutan Preserve – we almost passed on this due to an underwhelming guide book description, but it turned out to be highly unique. Normally you watch from about 10 meters away, but since the orangutans roam free, two of them came right up to us and we were literally three feet away.
A new day. We are on a boat (I’m on a boat!) speeding across the ocean to an island to get some some sun and have a swim…in the rain. Imagine it is raining and that your boat driver is either blind and/or has a lot of anger built up that he likes to take out on waves. We narrowly avoided dying multiple times, but it was somehow totally normal. Then came the wildlife jungle tour which should be renamed the river monkey boat viewing tour. Tip: after you have seen 1000 monkeys (and orangutans), you have seen them all. If you like mosquitos, humidity and birds, move to the Jungle.
Our bus ride back from the jungle was unlike anything you can imagine. Think about the last time you watched TV for 7 hours straight. Have you ever done it? Now think about the last time that you watched 7 hours straight of terrible kung foo movies (they were so bad, that they were good) in a foreign language. And then top it off with an entire music video history of the BackStreet Boys. Amazing.
Chill Zone: Low
Our 24 hour stint in this little city was brief (due to a forced stop over) but the weather cooperated nicely as Asia opened her arms to us with buckets of rain. It was a nice pre-cursor for what was to come in Borneo. That said, Singapore stands apart from the rest of South East Asia – it’s clean, modern, has good water and hot showers. The people are friendly but the culture is minimal and the city is very western. A highlight was the night zoo, largely due to the bat cage which entailed walking across a wooden bridge while 1 meter bats whizzed by your head.
Ability to find the chill zone: Medium