Chiang Mai: Redeemed by coffee.

Chiang Mai

Many friends had spoken highly to us about Chiang Mai. This may have created some lofty expectations for Thailand’s central city of the north.

Chiang Mai

Located 700km north of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is the capital of the Chiang Mai Province. With a population of approximately 1 million, Chiang Mai is Thailand’s fifth largest city. Set within the rolling foothills of the Himalayan mountains and surrounded by lush greenery, Chiang Mai attracts a large number of outdoor enthusiasts as well as those who want to flee Bangkok’s bustle.

Chiang Mai mote

Chiang Mai

The city itself is really quite pretty. Its historical centre lies within the walled city, only now partially bordered by remnants of an aged brick wall, and surrounded by a moat. Within the remaining city walls are more than 30 temples, along with some shops and guesthouses.

Doi Suthep

His spoken English was not it.

We tried to do a “Monk Chat” at one of the local temples, but what we received back was this note. Apparently, the monk who normally chats with Engish-speaking visitors was not available.

Mote

While it may be charming and with a slower pace of life than Bangkok, we did experience some frustrations while in Chiang Mai.

Riding in a red truck.

With a list in hand of some recommended shops and eating establishments to check out, we were met with disappointment a number of times when we were not find our desired location. Our frustrations were due to a number of factors:

Isra House

Isra House

1. Not all streets in Chiang Mai are labelled. Our accommodation, Isra House, was one example of a destination located on an unlabeled street. It holds the reputation of Chiang Mai’s most hidden guest house.

Chiang Mai

2. Houses and buildings are usually not numbered. If on a labelled street, usually only the street name or number is given. If we were lucky, we were able to find out what Soi (side street) the destination was located near to.

Chiang Mai

3. We found that addresses and maps were not always accurate. Even when we thought we knew where something should be, it often turned out to be different. Google Maps definitely led us astray more than once.

Songthaew

4. A lack of a good public transport system (there are no trains or buses) meant that one had to rely on tuktuks or songthews (red trucks), or spend a lot of time searching on foot.

Dragon

5. The language barrier meant that even if you stopped to ask for directions, it was difficult to find someone who spoke English well enough to understand what you were looking for or provide any helpful information.

All of this meant that we spent many hours wandering the streets of Chiang Mai, often on empty stomachs, with sore feet and tired legs.

Latte art, Doppio Ristr8to

In light of these frustrations, the redeeming factor in our Chiang Mai experience was the coffee scene.

Doppio Ristr8to

Doppio Ristr8to is a cafe owned by a Thai guy who worked in the Australian coffee scene before returning to his roots in Change Mia to open up this cafe/roastery.

Doppio Ristr8to

We were impressed by the wide range of brew methods and single origin coffees that Doppio offered.

Iced coffee

The individualized nature of their iced coffee beverages was also appreciated. Serving the espresso and milk in separate pouring vessels, the customer is given control of each element to craft their ideal beverage.

Akha Ama

Our visit to Akma Ahma Coffee on Hassadhisawee Road was the true highlight of Chiang Mai for us.

Akha Ama cafe

We had the chance to sit down with Lee, the owner of Akma Ama, and share some coffee together.

Coffee with Lee

Over coffee, he explained how the coffee served at his cafe, the Chiang Mai peaberry, comes from his parents’ coffee farm, just a few hours north of Chiang Mai.

Akha Ama Chiang Mai Peaberry

Coffee with Lee

We heard about his desire to improve the quality of coffee served not only at his cafe, but also throughout the Thai coffee community.

Lee

Lee is a super cool guy. Sincere, warm, and humble, we both took quite a liking to him and hope that our paths will cross again one day.

Akha Ama Black Juice

A heads up to people in the coffee industry: There is some awesome stuff going down in Northern Thailand with coffee. If you ever get the chance to meet Lee or visit Akha Ama Coffee one day for yourself, we highly recommend you don’t pass up this opportunity.

Akha Ama

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Thailand with Thai Orchid.

Bangkok

When we knew we had the opportunity to meet up in Thailand with the people from our favorite Thai restaurant in Edmonton, Thai Orchid, we knew it was going to be special.

Thai Orchid Feast

With so many factors coming together to make an experience like this even possible, it was truly a once in a lifetime kind of day that we will never forget.

At the Grand Palace

How did this day come to transpire? Let’s start at the beginning.

thai-orchid-restaurant

Early in our dating relationship, Thai Orchid became our favorite restaurant. Nestled beneath the Econolodge on Gateway Blvd, Thai Orchid charmed us and kept us coming back for their sweet coconut rice, incredible Pad Thai, and their unique version of cashew chicken. We fell in love with the authentic feel and humble, diligent hospitality, and it was at Thai Orchid that our dream of visiting Thailand began.

Last July when we were back in Edmonton for a visit, we mentioned to Wanna, a lovely Thai Orchid employee, that we hoped to visit Thailand sometime in the coming year.

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In January, we were in touch with Wanna again by phone, to ask where we might be able to find a dish similar to their cashew chicken dish in Thailand.

In March, we received an email from Wanna’s sister, Sawanee, letting us know that she and her family were planning on traveling to Thailand (from Edmonton) around the same time as us. As itineraries were shared, we realized that our time would overlap in Bangkok, and Sawanee kindly offered to meet up with up with us. It turned out that Wanna was able to make the trip to Thailand as well, and we were absolutely amazed at the idea of hanging out with our favorite Thai Edmontonians in Bangkok.

Sawanee, Alyssa, John

Early in the morning of our first day in Thailand, we received a phone call from Aswan, welcoming us to Thailand. Sawanee, along with her husband John and daughter Alyssa, and Wanna met us at our hotel, and together, we rode the bus further into Bangkok’s China Town district to explore some temples.

Golden Buddha

First stop: A visit to the Golden Buddha, the world’s largest solid gold statue. Located in the temple of Wat Traimit, the Golden Buddha stands 3.3m tall, weighs 5.5 tonnes, and is estimated to be worth 250 million dollars.

China Town

We strolled through some markets in China Town, where we saw all sorts of interesting animal parts- dried, in brines, deep fried, and other forms. I tried not to pay too much attention to the contents of the buckets and baskets beside me, but focused my attention on trying to get some shots of the others.

Bangkok

Sawanee helped us navigate the streets of Bangkok, and we experienced our first tuktuk ride.

first tuktuk ride

For lunch, Wanna treated us to an epic Thai feast at the Royal Thai Navy Restaurant.

Thai feast

Pad Thai

The food was amazing- steamed fish, a delicious lemongrass curry, fresh coconut smoothies, and pad thai (almost as good as Thai Orchid’s) were a few of the Thai delicacies enjoyed amidst great company.

Grand Palace

A visit to the Grand Palace in the afternoon proved to be very enchanting.

Grand Palace

The elegant, refined, detailed nature of the Thai culture was very much present in the design of the temples.

King's Palace

Grand Palace

We marvelled at the intricacy of the architecture, and all the fine details which gave the temples such grand allure.

Reclining Buddha

We popped in to say hello to the giant reclining Budda before taking a boat ride down the Chao Phraya River to a new development in Bangkok: Asiatique.

Asiatique

Asiatique

Asiatique is a vibrant, modern shopping district on Bangkok’s riverfront.

Fish pedicure

After an invigorating fish pedicure with Alyssa (the fish eat the dead skin off your feet), and a bit of boutique shopping, we finished off the night by watching the sun go down over the water.

Sunset at Asiatique

It was an epic day, for so many reasons. We experienced the ancient, the modern, the chaotic, and the refined of Bangkok, in a stretch of 10 hours. It was so much more than we could have ever experienced on our own- and all the richer because of the people we shared it with. The chances of a day like this happening were so slim, but we are so amazed and grateful that it did.

Boat

A massive thank you to Sawanee, Wanna, Alyssa, and John for showing us a first day in Thailand more incredible than we could have imagined. You are amazing and generous people, and we look forward to connecting with you again once we are back in Edmonton.

Alyssa, Wanna, Mel

Kuala Lumpur: Getting our feet wet in South East Asia.

Feet

When setting foot in a new country (yet alone a new continent) for the first time, there are a lot of unknowns.

Air Asia

Malaysia

We were very fortunate to have Jamy and Chris, two lovely people whom we met in East Wing, introduce us to some of the novelties and chaos of SE Asia in a way that was very gentle and comfortable.

Jamy & Chris

We got to know Jamy and Chris in the halls of East Wing. Jamy and Brendon bonded almost instantly over their common love of food, with Brendon often following his nose into the communal kitchen to find out what Jamy was cooking. Jamy’s very generous spirit resulted in many delicious lunches for Brendon.

KL skyline

We were so thrilled to begin our SE Asia adventure by visiting these two new friends in their home city of KL, Malaysia. Within Malaysia, there are three distinct ethnic groups: Chinese-Malaysian, Indian-Malaysian, and Malay. Jamy and Chris happen to be Indian-Malaysian.

Food centre

Satays

Jamy was very excited to have us taste as many local dishes as possible in the 48 hours we were there. Nosi Lamak, Indian pancake with curries and chutneys, pulled tea, fresh coconut drink, and chicken satays were a few of the Indian-Malaysian delicacies Jamy had us try.

Ice floss

The mango ice floss was especially delicious.

Petronas Towers

Central Market

In between meals, Jamy kindly took us around to see a few of KL’s hotspots, including the well known (and very tall) Petronas Towers, as well as the Central Market.

Pool

There was a beautiful pool in Jamy and Chris’ complex, which brought refreshing relief from temperatures in the mid 30 range.

Election

Our visit had interesting timing, as it was the week of the national election. The city was plastered with signage, and it was evident that tensions were high.

Jamy's home cooking

Jamy spoiled us with her home cooking, and we were very touched by their immense generosity and hospitality towards us. Thanks to our friends, we had a very relaxing and enjoyable time in Malaysia, and a very comfortable introduction to South East Asia. We can only hope that we might get the pleasure of hosting Chris and Jamy in Canada someday!

Malaysian florals

Pacific sabatical.

Signpost

Just a quick update to let you know where we are at: According to this signpost, we are precisely 2967km from Auckland,

Signpost

and 9438km from Edmonton… in the Cook Islands.

Cook Islands

We will be spending a couple of days in Rarotonga on our way back to Canada. Call it a Pacific sabbatical, if you may.

Rarotonga

We will embracing this stopover as a time to rest, debrief our trip, process the move, and take a deep breath as we prepare to begin a new chapter of our lives back in Canada.

There is lots we are excited to share with you about our recent journey to SE Asia, so you can expect to see a number of blog posts (with pics to accompany, of course) appear over the next few weeks.

Farewelling New Zealand.

Matchbox.

How does one say goodbye to a place that you have called home for 3.5 years, and people whose lives who have been fused to our own in that time?

Goodbye, NZ.

After our whirlwind of a journey through SE Asia, we returned to the safe, welcoming shores of New Zealand for but a twenty-four hour period to exchange our backpacks for suitcases, pack up a couple of boxes, and say goodbye to a few close friends back in Auckland.

Our time in NZ has been amazing. It’s hard to put words to what this experience has meant to us, or to understand fully how it has shaped us.

Goodkeys.

We can say, however, that the people we have encountered along the way, especially those whom we have journeyed closely with, have perhaps illuminated or brought out different facets of ourselves that we may not have known existed.

Dale, Amber & Jack

There have been many people who have enhanced our lives and helped bring a depth and richness to our time here.

Bea & Kyle

Friends.

It’s been such a privilege to journey with these quality human beings and share many great times and conversations together, often over meals.

Dinner with Goodkeys and Badgers

Leonie and Nathan

Some friends we will likely reunite with sometime in the not so distant future. For others, it is hard to say when we will see each other again.

Canada party.

Carol

It is sad to come to the end of a chapter in our lives that has been so good, in so many ways.

Stingray Bay

To quote a friend (Tim Keel) who used to live in new Zealand but left, “The beauty of New Zealand wounds you.” That wound will likely scar over, but its mark on us will always be there.

Though we are excited to return to loved ones in our homeland of Canada, a part of our hearts will always be in New Zealand.

And now, a brief toast to the country who, with its beauty, simplicity, and grandeur, will be impossible to forget.

m&b

New Zealand,

May you stay forever green and beautiful.
May you continue to embrace foreigners with open arms, alluring them with your stunning beaches, lush hillsides, and world class dairy.
May your people continue to wander, wonder, and explore.
May peace reside on your shores, and also on your majestic mountain tops.
May the All Blacks continue to triumph over all nations on the world rugby scene.
And may there remain an appreciation of life lived for that which is intangible.

So for now, this is goodbye, New Zealand! We shall never forget you.

Cathedral Cove

To Hanoi by rail.

To Hanoi by train

We travelled from Hoi An to Hanoi by train.

To Hanoi by train

We were lucky to have scored two lower berth “soft sleepers,” meaning that we had a padded mattress to stretch out on and a private room to ourselves until we were joined part way through by two friendly Vietnamese travellers who filled the upper berths.

Vietnam coastline

Following the coastline for the first part of the journey, the trip was highly scenic until the sun slipped beneath the horizon.

IMG_6644

The 19 hour journey seemed to pass quickly- thanks to the soft sleepers, we both had a good nights’ rest, and we arrived safely at our destination of Hanoi, ready to explore Vietnam’s capital city.

Our South East Asia adventure has nearly come to an end. Our minds are full, taste buds inspired, and hearts very thankful.

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Just one last stop: Singapore!