Tongue of the Dragon

On our return to Thailand, it was paramount to commence our tropical fruit indulgence. Courtesy of the Chiang Mai morning market, our bellies are the happy recipients of a coconut and a mango (in fruit shake form), three rose apples, a green mango (with chili/sugar of course), and a pink dragon fruit. The last one made a particularly lasting impression on us.

Preparing a fruit shakeEnjoying the fruit shake
This enormous fruit shake contained a full coconut (meat + water) and an entire mango

LL eating dragon fruit
This time we had dragon fruit with pink flesh rather than our standard white innards…

Pink tongues
…and we have the stains to prove it

Live from TPE

Here’s Lauren about to board our flight to SFO, with Little Vid and a mango we picked up in Chiang Mai this morning. We’ll see the real Vid in about 12 hours!

Heading out of TPE

Due to the magic of time zones, our flight out of Taipei leaves at 11PM tonight, and our connection in SFO also leaves for JFK at 11PM tonight. It’s going to be a long day…night…whatever it is.

Bon Kitchen


When we were last in Chiang Mai for orientation, Lauren looked at TripAdvisor’s restaurant recommendations, even though they are usually a bust for restaurants. While most of the top-rated spots sounded underwhelming to us, the number one restaurant at the time got raves for fresh, tasty, organic food. Bon, the owner, was frustrated with the difficulty in finding healthy Thai food without MSG, so she decided to open her own restaurant to fill that gap.

Enter Bon Kitchen, a small, informal restaurant with simple decor and some of the most artfully presented food in Thailand. Our first dinner there consisted of a spicy three mushroom salad and penang curry, both of which were delicious. The mushroom salad was a variation on yam talay, with mushrooms instead of seafood. We ordered our penang curry “spicy,” and Bon delivered. Her penang had a generous portion of kaffir lime leaves, a modest hand on the coconut milk, and used a homemade curry paste that is Bon’s family’s recipe.

During AJWS orientation in February, we took the other volunteers to Bon Kitchen for a huge family-style meal, where we got to sample most of the food and fruit shakes. While some people raved about the chicken teriyaki, for Lauren and I, the great new discovery was the wing bean salad. We ordered ours with tofu instead of pork, and really enjoyed the sweet and smoky dressing of tamarind, and burnt chilies. A sprinkling of peanuts on top added extra joy and crunchiness. The rest of the dishes were good, but not in the league of the spicy three mushroom salad and penang curry.

This afternoon, even though it was just the two of us, we had to order all three of our favorite dishes for a mid-day feast. They were just as delicious as we remembered, and we lingered over the meal and took advantage of Bon’s free wi-fi. Overall, we’ve enjoyed a lot of tasty, and artfully presented food, at Bon Kitchen. Definitely stop by when you’re in Chiang Mai, we always will!

Kenny enjoying a fruit shake Lauren enjoying her fruit shake
Enjoying fresh fruit shakes before our meals

Spicy mushroom salad
Spicy three mushroom salad

Wing bean salad
Wing bean salad with tofu in a tamarind, coconut, burnt chili dressing

Penang curry
Penang tofu

Organic brown rice
Beautifully presented organic brown rice

Bon Kitchen
71/10 Sridonchai Road
Chiang Mai, Thailand
+66 08-7800 5410

Daily: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

The Long and Winding Road

Our minivan ride to Chiang Mai this morning was across one of northern Thailand’s most infamous stretches of road. It is well paved, but renowned by motorcyclists for its innumerable curves. I took a few videos along the way to capture the memories. The footage was too jarring for Lauren to review while we were en route, as the curves from the video were out of sync with the real world. Overall, it was an easier trip than I expected, soothed as we were by multiple podcasts of This American Life and Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me. That said, other passengers didn’t take it as well, and the smell of them vomiting did make us a tad bit nauseous.

Now we have a few hours to relax and take care of some errands here in Chiang Mai before continuing on our journey to Phuket.

Lauren at the bus station
Waiting for the bus

Curvy road
A standard stretch of road during our journey

Road sign
I guess the hundreds of other curves we’d passed already were the dull ones

Here is a 20 second taste of our morning experience, get your Dramamine ready

Rose Apple

Lauren and I first had a rose apple in the Mekong Delta on our 2007 trip to Vietnam. We didn’t encounter them again until our return to Nha Trang, where we had one on our hotel room fruit plate. I was excited to revisit the refreshing crunchy, watery taste and took a bite (the Vietnamese eat them in very much the same way we eat regular apples). I was happily enjoying my first bite until I looked down at the inside of the rose apple – there were little white worms inside! Ick! I spit out that first bite and had a hard time looking at a rose apple for a few weeks afterwards. Lauren’s response: “What’s worse than finding a worm in your rose apple?” I was still a bit in shock from the worm and replied “what?” To which she excitedly quoted her father: “Finding half a worm!”

By the time we got back to Thailand my stomach had steadied again at the sight of rose apples. At Doi Suthep we introduced one of our fellow volunteers to rose apples, conveniently pre-chopped up, pre-inspected, and served with chili-sugar dip.

We’ve been eating a lot of rose apples lately, mostly at breakfast time. Our local fruit lady sells rose apples for about $1/kilo, and they provide a nice textural contrast to other fruit in oatmeal or yogurt. Inspired by a tasty local som tam fruit salad we have also used them in salads of our own. I still haven’t fully shaken my Vietnam experience though, so I always chop my rose apples up carefully into small cubes to make sure they don’t contain any unexpected protein sources.

Mark trying his first rose apple
Mark trying his first rose apple in Chiang Mai

Rose apples
Rose apples

Cut rose apple
The first slice: no worms!


Chandni Chowk to Chiang Mai

As Kenny mentioned, I purchased 3m of Indian silk on MG Road in Bangalore back in December, with the intention of getting a Western-style dress tailored. I ran out of time to get anything made in India, so I carried the fabric in my backpack all around SE Asia, hoping that one of the many tailors here in Chiang Mai could make something for me.

Little did I know then that finding a tailor is actually quite a process. Most of the tailors in town seem to specialize in men’s suits, and few of them actually do any sewing on site – they take your measurements, sell you some fabric, and then send the material out to a sweatshop to do the bulk of the work. So the “tailors” are basically fabric salesmen.

Fortunately for us, Lasanna at Pat’s (our guest house – highly recommended) knew about Uangdoi Design School, the only accredited fashion design school in Thailand.

Uangdoi Design School

We immediately had a good feeling about the teacher, Krisna, a sweet Thai woman who welcomed us into her shop and offered us water. It seemed like a good omen that an incarnation of Vishnu would be the one to handle my Indian silk. :) She was excited to hear that we were from Seattle, as she had a former student from Seattle who had recently won a fashion design contest in Friday Harbor. I provided a photo of a dress to use as inspiration, and after a quick analysis she described how she would construct the dress – how many pieces of fabric she would use, how she would make the buttons and design the A-line skirt. Then she took a few measurements and told me to come back on Monday, when she would have the lining completed. A few shots from the Monday fitting:

Krisna making a few adjustments to the dress lining. I was apparently very intent on standing still.

Krisna describing her plans to add a backing layer of fabric on the silk so that it wouldn’t catch

On Thursday evening, we returned to pick up the final product. The dress came out exactly as I had envisioned, and there was even a bit of fabric left that I may use for a small purse.

Krisna showing off her creation

Final dress fitting

Chiang Mai: The place to get stuff done

We have a number of errands that have accrued over the past two months. We’ve been able to finish them all here in Chiang Mai:

  1. Fix our camera lens – a few days ago the outer piece of our lens (that holds the filters/cap) came off. We found an old school little repair shop called Jear Photo near the eastern gate of the old city. The owner, Mr. Thonghua Srigoset, is a very friendly man who has been repairing cameras for 28 years. He had our lens fixed in the time it took to get a Thai massage and return to his shop. :)
  2. Mend a skirt – Garage fronts with people working sewing machines abound here.  We had a man around the corner from our hotel re-hem Lauren’s skirt for 20B (less than $1). It looks brand new!
  3. Design and print business cards – while we were in Goa we picked up some hand-carved stamps depicting a monkey and an elephant, intending to use them for designing simple business cards that reference this blog. For some reason we’ve never managed to both remember about this and have the requisite time while in a city with a printing service. For our first few days such a shop eluded us here, but it seems that the area around our orientation hotel is meant for our errands. Right across the street from the skirt mender is Chaos Creative – a graphic design shop that also prints business cards. The designer, Araya, scanned our stamps and emailed us PDF mock-ups of the layout yesterday. They will be ready tomorrow morning.
  4. Make a dress – while saree shopping in Bangalore, Lauren purchased 3m of dress fabric to get a Western-style formal dress made for my sister’s wedding. We found a great dress maker here, and the gown is supposed to be ready for pick-up tomorrow evening.


Chilling in Chiang Mai

We had two and a half days free before starting AJWS orientation this afternoon, and we used the opportunity to repeat a few highlights from our last visit to Chiang Mai. We zenned out at Wat Chedi Luang, and took another cooking class at Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School. Mark, another AJWS volunteer, joined us for course one, which has green curry, pad thai, and surprisingly tasty fish cakes among its six dishes. That said, if you have flexibility in your schedule we preferred course two, where you get to make your own curry paste as the morning activity.

This morning we visited the one major site we missed last time we were in Chiang Mai – Doi Suthep, the hill wat outside of town. It’s a curvy ride to the temple base, where you encounter hundreds of other tourist vehicles and are immediately assailed by an assortment of hawkers. The wat itself was a bit of a letdown. It’s quite touristed-up, with kitschy souvenir stalls at the bottom, and children in hill-tribe garb dancing for money inside the temple. Even the “strenuous” climb up to the top proved to be only a few steps. Much of the wat itself is under construction and the Buddhas inside seem haphazardly arranged.

Our full photo set is available here.

Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang – our favorite wat in Chiang Mai

Cooking school
Each course in our cooking class started with a demonstration in a room handily equipped with a large Food Network-style overhead mirror

Chopping vegetables
Mark and Lauren chopping up the ingredients of their green curries

Lauren and green curryKenny and green curry
Enjoying our green curry fresh out of the wok

Lauren at Doi Suthep 
This dancing horse at Doi Suthep came to give Lauren a kiss

Doi SuthepDoi Suthep Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep

Si Phen


This morning we moved locations to Ping Buri Hotel for our AJWS orientation, near Wat Phra Singh. One of the places I remember from the last time we were in Chiang Mai is Si Phen, just across the street from Wat Phra Singh and a short walk from our new hotel. I remembered the pomelo salad being particularly delicious.

We found Si Phen easily, and the open garage setting was just as we remember from last year. However, I must have had my wires crossed on what food we had where since they don’t have a pomelo salad available. We pressed on, and ordered a green papaya salad and khao soi gai (which is probably what we actually ate last time).

The papaya salad was delicious, one of the better ones we’ve had in Thailand. It’s a mix of green papaya, napa cabbage, peanuts and green beans, tossed with a clean lime/fish sauce dressing. There was no hint of the dried shrimp taste usually keeps me away from Thai papaya salad, and I find that peanuts are always a good addition.

Khao soi is a classic northern Thai dish that consists of yellow noodles in a curry soup. The one at Si Phen is topped with crispy noodles and napa cabbage. It was well-spiced and the meat on the chicken leg was tender and fell right off the bone. If you’ve never tried khao soi before, this is a great place to get your introduction.

Overall, a delicious and cheap (~2USD total) meal served by a friendly Thai chef. If you get hungry near Wat Phra Singh you should check out Si Phen to take care of the problem.

UPDATE (2/15/2010): Turns out that my memory isn’t faulty and they used to have pomelo salad. Courtesy of the interwebs, here’s the review from the previous Lonely Planet edition (in our version the pomelo reference has been removed):

This inexpensive stopover specialises in both northern- and northeastern-style dishes. The kitchen prepares some of the best sôm-tam (spicy papaya salad) in the city, including a variation made with pomelo fruit.

Green papaya salad
Green papaya salad

Khao soi
Khao soi

Si Phen chef
Thai chef de cuisine

Si Phen Si Phen menu

Si Phen
103 Th Inthawarorot
Chiang Mai, Thailand
0 5331 5328

In Chiang Mai

After five weeks of traveling around SE Asia with no responsibilities (unless you call working on my tan a major obligation), we’ve arrived in Chiang Mai to kick off our AJWS volunteer assignments. Orientation begins on Sunday afternoon, and on Tuesday evening our NGO partners will arrive to join us for two days of programs. Then on Friday morning, all 13 SE Asia volunteers will head off in different directions to begin our volunteer assignments – about half in Phnom Penh, the other half sprinkled throughout Thailand. We’ll have a couple of days to find a place to live and settle in before starting work the following Monday.

I am both excited and anxious about orientation, especially meeting my NGO partner. Neither Kenny nor I have much information yet regarding what our NGOs actually want us to do, or even much about the organizations’ charters. There will certainly be immense language barriers to overcome, and I’ll need to learn how to manage projects with very limited resources. And most importantly, I just hope they like me. :)

It will also be exciting to meet the other volunteers. I’m hoping that we can form a (geographically-distributed) support network as we all try to grapple with similar types of problems.

Until orientation begins, we have two days to hang out in Chiang Mai. We’ve scheduled a cooking class for tomorrow (at the same cooking school we attended last time we were here), and we have a short list of errands. We were only away for a little over three weeks, but I’m definitely excited to be back in Thailand… just the smells of green curries and pad thai cooking on the street is quite welcoming.