A Travellerspoint blog

The End is the Beginning is The End

Tokyo and a return to SF

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We finished our visit to northern Thailand in Pai, after our detour up to Soppong. It was a bittersweet few days, knowing we had only to retrace our steps back to Bangkok and then head on to Tokyo before the trip came to a close. We visited nearby Pai Canyon on the recommendation of a Swedish hippie named Attila we had met the night before. He told us it was "just like the Grand Canyon". While it was quite spectacular, it was not nearly as wide or deep as its American counterpart. Annie got in some amazing jumping shots and I showed off my fearlessness of heights. Later that afternoon, we checked out Dave's Pai Piranha Fishing Park. We've spent a lot of time (not really that much :) ) developing our fishing skills on this trip and we thought this would be a perfect chance to use them. An Aussie guy named Dave runs it - its essentially a bar and two ponds stocked with catfish, carp, and (allegedly) piranhas. We had a great time but unfortunately didn't catch much. This may be either because we have a lot to learn about fishing, or because the fish in this touristy pond have learned a lot about avoiding being caught! Still, sitting by a pond in rural Thailand while sipping Singha is pretty nice.

The Family House @ Pai provided us with some of our most comfortable accommodations of the trip and also a sense of home that we hadn't found anywhere else (and were really starved for by this point in the trip!). We were there for a total of 5 nights and were the first guests to stay in at least 2 of their bungalows. The two lovely sisters shown in the last picture had only opened their hotel a few days before we showed up.

Though we've already posted about Boise and match night we thought we'd share a few more photos from that night. The first is the view from our first rooftop bar of the night (the 56th floor I believe), the second is Annie enjoying a beer street-side, and the last is us just after finding out where we'll be spending the next 3 years. A note about bars in Thailand: not only are there brick and mortar watering holes every few feet but in the evening, vendors open up coolers full of beer and liquor along the side of the street with tables and chairs for 20 or 30 people. Its truly a sight to see on a Saturday night. I'm pretty sure this beer was served to us by a lady-boy out of a cooler. Happy Match Night to us.

Because we had limited time in Japan, we decided to let the search for tasty food guide us around the city. The plan worked surprisingly well and over the course of our 3 days there we visited many of Tokyo's most interesting areas. We saw Shibuya, Harajuku, Roppongi, Ginza, Ebisu (the namesake of our favorite SF sushi restaurant) and many of Tokyo's exciting and beautiful sites - Yoyogi Park, the Meiji Shrine, Ueno Park, and the Imperial Palace. One important thing we missed though was the famous Sumo culture. I was very excited to wake up early one morning and travel out to Ryogoku to see the sumo stables and early morning training sessions. Unfortunately, one of the most important tournaments of the year was being held in Osaka and all the Sumo were away. Next time! The photos below document some of our more interesting meals. The first was at a nameless restaurant in Roppongi Metro Station that caught our eye on the way home from a sushi dinner. The second and third were taken at Ippudo, a tasty ramen spot known to many Americans because they have a somewhat famous branch in NYC, and Udon Yamacho, a highly rated Udon place in Ginza that did not disappoint. The last documents our trip to Sushi Daidokoya, an amazingly cheap Kaiten-Zushi place in Shibuya and also our last dinner of the trip.

The Tokyo subway schedule presents an interesting problem for the city's residents. It closes down at around 12:30 am and starts back up at 5:00 am. This means that if you stay out past the last train, it's either a really expensive taxi ride home, or you may be stuck sitting in a bar making small talk until 5:00 am. Or perhaps playing ping-pong at one of the all-night game complexes around town. We decided to do as the locals do and spend a night out on the town, ending the event by a trip to the early morning fish market. Since karaoke is a requisite Tokyo activity, we started the night with a whopping three hours of amazing vocals at the place where the karaoke scene in Lost in Translation was filmed. For the record, there is not one word of English understood or printed in the entire establishment. We wiled away the rest of the night eating various Japanese cuisines and sitting in late night bars waiting with the rest of the business-suited Japanese men for the subway to open. The morning dawned on the unfortunately closed-for-public-holiday fish market, but it was so cold outside I think no one was complaining that it was time to head home to bed!

Happo-En is an amazingly zen Japanese garden that we visited. On the way out, we wandered right into the middle of a gorgeous wedding party (actually we wandered between the photographers and the bride and groom as they walked from the dining room towards the garden). The couple was dressed and made up very traditionally. They posed for a few minutes, looking very serious indeed, while family and friends (and us) looked on and the wedding photographers snapped away.

Tokyo is particularly beautiful (in the urban sense of the word) at night, the shopping district in Ginza being a prime example. We stopped by the new Uniqlo store and were amazed at the layout. Each floor is only about 100 feet by 100 feet but there were 12 of them! In fact, the entire first floor is labelled on the store map as the "welcome gallery".

Sitting in the airport on the way home, we are at once very happy and very sad... Its been an amazing, life-changing adventure for both of us but the real world calls. Thanks for reading!

Posted by jeremyandannie 19:40 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Match Night

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True to the title of the blog, yesterday was the Last Night in Bangkok. Which means that at midnight, while on a rooftop bar, Annie received an email from the National Residency Match Program. Drumroll please....

It's BOISE!!

Idaho is beckoning.


Posted by jeremyandannie 23:56 Archived in Thailand Comments (7)

Northern Exposure

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It appears that some people (Ben) can't wait for our next update. Here it is, Dawg! Since we last posted we've been thoroughly enjoying the north of Thailand. Our pace of adventuring is slowing a bit as we get accustomed to life in this country and we both seem to be doing more reading than either of us can remember. Kindles are truly amazing facilitators of this, btw.

We ended up spending a total of 4 days in Chiang Mai at a wonderful guest house called Sri-Pat. Our first major activity was renting a scooter and driving the 15km northeast of the city to see one of the North's most sacred temples, Doi Suthep. The route is a flat 5K, then a further winding, switchbacking 10K up the side of a mountain, followed by 306 steps up to the gate. It is also the traditional hike that all freshman take when they matriculate at Chiang Mai University. Legend tells that the monk who built the temple entrusted a sacred stone to an elephant who would decide the exact spot for building. The elephant wandered for days, eventually falling over dead in the spot where the temple now sits. We decided to get in on some of the Good Karma and lit some candles and a bit of incense for communing with Buddha, fitting right in with the hundreds of others who had come to do the same. The views on the ride up would have been fantastic but for the perpetual haze that hangs over, from what we can tell, the entire region during the dry season. It is caused not by pollution from cars, scooters, and tuk-tuks, but by the near complete burning of the underbrush that the local farming communities perform this time of year. Sometimes visibility is literally at a few hundred feet. It seems that the whole region is eagerly awaiting the first monsoon rains that will wash away the smoke. It wouldn't be until almost a week later, further north in Soppong, that we would actually see the sun for the first time.

Side note: one of the oddities of the North is that all the pools are absolutely freezing. Its the exact opposite problem of the South, where all you want is a pool to cool off in and instead you get bathwater. First World Problem, I guess, but it has caused us to take to jumping into Pacific Ocean-cold water for an invigorating afternoon swim.


The picture above of the two statues is significant because it represents Annie and my birth day Buddhas. I was born on a Thursday and am therefore associated with the one on the left, in which you see the Buddha meditating. Annie was born on Friday and is therefore connected to the thinking Buddha. Do these Buddhas correctly predict our personalities?

Our last full day in Chiang Mai we signed up for Thai cooking lessons with a wonderful company called Thai Farm Cooking School. You get to cook in a beautiful kitchen out on an organic farm away from Chiang Mai. We got an early start and were picked up, along with our 10 or so cooking buddies, and taken to the local market for a lecture about the ingredients we would later be using to cook our dishes. It was here that we got to know our teacher, EM, who was as funny as she was knowledgeable. She had no trouble laughing at herself or by herself, as the rest of us were still a bit sleepy and incredulous at her boundless energy. She claimed to have learned English from The Wizard of Oz and, as if to prove it, had a laugh eerily similar to the wicked witch of the west's. The day was as packed (as well as our stomachs) as any we spent on this trip. We each made a total of 5 dishes - a curry, a soup, a stir fry, a noodle dish, and finally a dessert. We made some great cooking school friends with whom we shared this feast.


After Chiang Mai, we headed north to Maehongson province and first to the backpacker haven, Pai. Its one of the more relaxed places we've been, catering to western tourists and also vacationing Thais. Plenty of live music, bars, and leisure activities. These pictures were taken our first night there where we visited the best pizza place in Thailand, chef-ed by this adorable woman in her railroad cap. She certainly knows how to make italian food!

In Pai, we got lucky enough to stumble across the best guesthouse we've stayed in so far, Family House @ Pai. It was just opened 5 days ago by 2 lovely women, and we've been able settle in there and be welcomed back every day like a member of the family.


The following day we headed out into the countryside and found ourselves at a beautiful, if deserted, hot springs resort. Here are a few of the various pools where we found ourselves relaxing. These resorts are really funny, because they seem to nearly shut down during the dry/low season. What this means for us is rock-bottom prices, if you can be happy with the smokey scene and relative isolation.


Despite some of our misgivings about animal treatment and hyper-touristy elephant activity, we decided to go for a nice, slow-paced (like 0.5 km/hr) elephant ride. We went to Noi's Elephant Camp on our bike, and Noi had us climb 7 feet up on to the back of an adorable female elephant. We lumbered through the countryside, with No-Poi (the elephant) stopping to eat whole mango trees and head down cliffs in search of water. Noi, our elephant driver was a laugh-a-minute and kept saying things like "Oh my Budda!" when we would begin a seemingly too steep descent for a several ton animal.


After a few days in Pai, the dusty mountain road was calling, and we hopped our scooter to head over to Sopping, an hour and a half east towards Burma. The town itself was much less touristy than anything we'd encountered, to the point that we could only find one place that even offered us food. It turned out to be one of our favorite meals of trip - perfectly done fried rice and super spicy shan (the name of a local tribe) meatballs. We found some great country roads for driving around, and passed through some really tiny towns, complete with Thai children playing in dams and pigs on the side of the road. We stayed at another gorgeous but deserted resort called The Rock Resort. For about $30, we were given a river view bungalow with a private dock for feeding fish and our own swing bridge to wander across!


We're now back in Pai, having been welcomed home by our friends at Family House. Today we're off to explore a canyon and a waterfall, and tomorrow will be heading back towards Bangkok to close out Thailand with a big night of celebration. Annie finds out where she matched on Friday night at midnight! (Btw, she found out on Monday night that she did in fact match somewhere, and does not have to undergo to the SOAP/scramble process that some medical students across the country are currently embroiled in.)

Posted by jeremyandannie 20:58 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Thai Places That Annie and Jeremy Have Recently Visited

What are Railay Bay, Tonsai Beach, Krabi, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai?

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We departed Koh Lanta on the Ao Nang Princess, a boat packed to the gills with hopeful beach tourists. Our grand finale for the beach portion of the trip was Railay Bay, where we'd heard tell of great climbing along seaside limestone cliffs. We initially thought to stay at Railay West beach, but found it to be slightly too "high-end" for our tastes. Someone on the diving boat had mentioned Tonsai village as being the cheaper backpacker option in the Bay, so we paid $3 for a longtail to take us the 10 mins around to it. Upon wading ashore, we were greeted by a backpacker haven of limited electricity, bungalow rooms complete with all kinds of wildlife (read: roaches), and lots of delicious cheap food options. We settled in for 3 days of Rasta-Thai glory.

Tonsai Beach

At first we stuck to the water, floating around in the bathwater-warm ocean and watching the climbers up on the cliffs. Using highly refined kayaking skills, we rented a boat from a man on the beach and headed out to explore the surrounding coves and beaches at sunset. The most beautiful beach by far was Pranang Cave beach, the most southern one with a lone resort on it (not surprising), and we paddled out to the middle of the bay to watch the sun go down with cliffs all around.

Sunset Kayak

Food highlights included some amazing grilled chicken for $1.50 each at a shack called Mama Chicken on Tonsai, as well as frequent ice cream eaten on the beach. On our last day in Railay we signed up for a climbing course with a man named Minh, who took us on a harrowing water/limestone rock hike to get to our climbing destination. Along with a new Canadian friend named Terrance, we spent a half a day finding our climbing feet along some really amazing routes over the water. We managed to do some 6A+s (on the European system), around 5.10s in the American system. Being belayed by a non-English-speaking man was a good time; he was really stellar at saying "Not too tired! No come down!". Needless to say, we had a sore arm situation going on the following day.


We stayed a night in the cute seaside town of Krabi, and hopped a plane to Bangkok. The destination was the Atlanta Hotel, a weird nod to British colonialism that they seem to be super proud of. They have severe attitudes and a very staunch "no sex tourism" policy. I had some of the best Tom Kha of the trip so far in their restaurant though! For some of the infamous tailor-made Thailand dress clothes, we hit up Brioni at Bangkok and proceeded to fashion residency clothes/other professional attire.

The next day, our good friends Patrick and Mer arrived to start their 2-week vacation in Thailand and Laos. We spent an awesome day at the weekend market off of Mo Chit, and even managed to find some Thai cowboys playing bluegrass. See below for the odd convergence of Annie, Patrick, and bluegrass all in the middle of Bangkok.

Bluegrass Market

On the walk around the city, we saw that even Ronald McDonald likes to say "Sawadee!" and hold his hands in prayer.


Later that night, we all went to the most amazing rooftop bar ever, the Red Sky Bar. Complete with an outdoor glass staircase, couches, and delicious cocktails, we were all on top of the world (actually, just the 56th floor but it was still reeeeaaally high).

Red Sky

We spent our last day in the capital touring historical Bangkok. We hopped the Skytrain, took a canal ferry, and pranced around the famous Wat Pho temple with the reclining Buddha. Our guide, Jimmy, was quite the happy man, and mischievously let us behind barriers and generally did a lot of smiling and laughing.

Wat Pho

The requirement to cover up shoulders and legs led to a steaming hot tour of the Grand Palace, where we saw the great Emerald Buddha. Annie felt quite heavenly inspiration, as evidenced by the photos.

Grand Palace

We headed to the train station after a final dinner with LA friends, and hopped a 17-hour train for Chiang Mai. It's unclear what took the train so long, as it was supposed to be a few hours less than that (and the drive is only around 8 hours), but at least that unending biography of Steve Jobs is now closer to completion.


The task ahead is to settle into Chiang Mai for some Thai cooking classes, temples, and countryside motorcycle tours. Prediction: it shouldn't be too hard.

Posted by jeremyandannie 06:42 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

First Impressions of Thailand

Its Awesome

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Hey Guys! Sorry its been so long since we've posted but Thailand is a fast paced place - gotta keep your focus or you can get lost in the hustle and bustle. So far we've spent nights in 4 areas and are now based in ban saladan, in the northern part of koh lanta at the MP Place Hotel. We just returned from a fantastic day trip out to the island of Koh Haa, a beautiful atoll 25 km or so due west. Definitely the best day of snorkeling I've ever had. The visibility was easily 50 feet and we were surrounded by coral of all types, colorful reef fish, lobsters, and many other friendly sea creatures. It was unique for me in that the depth was 30 feet or so but because of the great visibility it was entirely comfortable and rewarding just to snorkel (rather than having to scuba dive) We piggybacked on a scuba diving trip run by a great local dive shop called Blue Planet Divers. They really know how to treat the guests :) - chocolate croissants for breakfast, hot noodles for a between dive snack and an assortment of tasty curries and rice for a large lunch on the way back (it was a leisurely 2 hours boat ride in either direction).

Our first stop after arriving from Bali was Patong, a Las Vegas-y playground for partylovers of all ages. Sort of a necessary evil as we arrived late in the day and missed the ferry out to Koh Phi Phi. Still, the insanity of tourist Thailand was clearly expressed in Patong, so it's probably good to experience it once. We ended up having cocktails at a really beautiful rooftop bar overlooking the madness, and boarded our ferry with approximately 200 other souls for Phi Phi the next morning.

On the islands in Thailand, longtail boats seem to be the norm. They appear to be designed to deal with the strange feature of the Thai islands near Phuket that the water for hundreds of meters offshore is only a few feet deep. Hence the long "tail" that allows the driver to control the depth of the propeller - it also has the nice benefit of keeping the motor entirely out of the water. Needless to say, late afternoon trips to the beaches at low tide are not much fun if you're looking to get wet, there is tons of exposed rock and a 5 minute walk to the water!

We hired a private boat one day during our stay on Phi Phi Don to take us around its smaller more beautiful southern sister, Phi Phi Lei. Here are some shots of beautiful Maya Bay, where the movie The Beach was filmed.

After our night at Patong and at one of the hotels in the very touristy area of Ko Phi Phi we were ready to get away from the crowds and nestle into a more mellow beach scene. Phi Phi can be a loud and obnoxious place if you're not 20 years old and love to drink :) Fortunately, the western side of the island has a bunch of beautiful beaches that are more difficult to get to and for a (mostly) reasonable sum its not too hard to live out the dream of living in an earthy bungalow 15 feet from the water. Relax resort was really a wonderful place to stay. The bungalows were modest but very comnfortable (no a/c and electricity only when the sun was down) and the food was great. They even rented us a 2 person kayak so we could do more hand-line fishing!

After our stint at Phi Phi, we boated over to Koh Lanta for some more backpacker-style island exploration. Lanta is a place where people looking for a little bit of "unspoilt" Thailand come (though that seems to be a bit of a running-in-place type of race that travelers like to talk about.) Regardless, we found the prices and pace of life here more agreeable. We disembarked the boat to find a sleepy town with lots of wooden houses built on poles right out over the water.

A 40k road runs straight down each side of the island, and as you go deeper south life gets more and more remote. We passed by a Muslim temple in the jungle calling its members to prayer, an elephant by the side of the road, and a few stray monkeys. We also managed to catch an amazing sunset overlooking Koh Haa where we went on our fabulous snorkeling trip today. We stopped off for a swim at Kantiang Bay, supposedly one of the top 10 beaches in the world.

At the very end of the island, we caught sight of this local man who climbed up a Palm tree, knocked down some coconuts and climbed back down. No Big Deal!

And finally, a beautiful Koh Lanta sunset. We've spent a lot of time in Thailand (and also Bali, if you recall) riding around on a motorbike and checking out beaches, villages, and various viewpoints, so here are some favorite shots from a sunset viewpoint.

Posted by jeremyandannie 03:14 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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