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Destinations, Thailand, Travel

Photo of the Week: Elephant Nature Park

May 23, 2016

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From my personal Facebook account this week:

For the past week we’ve been volunteering at Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand. Our duties have included prepping elephant food, planting trees, cleaning up elephant poo, cutting grass and corn, and bathing the elephants.

Most all of the elephants at this park have been rescued from the logging and tourism industries. These elephants have been physically and mentally abused for most of their lives. Elephant Nature Park provides the sanctuary and rehabilitation services for these elephants to “retire” and live the rest of their time with dignity.

Last night we had the pleasure of hearing Lek, the founder of ENP, speak with incredible passion and drive to help spread awareness of elephant abuse.

As my plea, I just ask that before participating in elephant tourism (rides, circus, even simply paying to feed the elephant) research and vet the company that you’re about to hand your money over to. Ask yourself whether the activity benefits the animal’s welfare. After spending a week observing the elephants in a near-natural environment, I can tell you it’s incredible to see these magnificent creatures living amongst their families without pressure to ever perform.

Lek and her team have done an amazing job at ENP. I highly encourage everyone to check out their website (elephantnaturepark.org) to learn more.

Destinations, Food, Thailand, Travel

Our Experience with Thai Farm Cooking School

May 16, 2016

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One of the activities I was most excited to take part in while in Thailand was participating in a Thai cooking class. I wanted to learn more about Thai food and expand my obsession beyond Pad See Ew and Pad Thai.

We learned the importance of Trip Advisor and other third-party reviews pretty quickly in Thailand. There are a lot of “tour agencies” all around Thailand and they help you book activities, trips, and transportation. These companies are extremely convenient because they book everything from start to finish for you (including transportation), but there isn’t really a lot of information on the reviews and feedback of the tours that are offered.

We learned this the hard way after booking a snorkeling tour in southern Thailand only to find that almost all of the reviews were extremely negative. Since we don’t have cellular data (WIFI only) we weren’t able to vouch the company before booking the tour. This isn’t to say that every tour the companies sell are negative, it’s just that you really need to find independent verifiers. We only made this mistake once (and ended up switching tours) so while it takes more time, we’re always double-checking companies to ensure they have favorable reviews before booking.

So finding the cooking class was simple; we just chose the best and more frequently reviewed company in Chiang Mai. This brought us to the Thai Farm Cooking School. For about $37USD each we spent a full day with our instructor learning about Thai cuisine, food culture, and how to make popular Thai dishes.

Our day started at 8:30AM with a pick up from our hostel in Chiang Mai. There were nine students in our group under the care of our excellent instructor, Pern. Pern was awesome. She was funny, friendly, warm and helpful – everything you want in a teacher. Before heading to the cooking school, we stopped by a local market to learn more about how Thai people shop for food and learn about ingredients that aren’t as common in the US.

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Once we arrived at the cooking school you could see how serious of an operation this was. Several other classes were going on throughout the farm. I was really impressed by the organization and flow of the entire day.

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Before we started cooking we took a tour of the farm to see how the ingredients we were about to be cooking with actually grew. We saw mangoes, pineapples, cashew nuts, holy basil, eggplant, rice, coconuts and more.

When you sign up for the school you’re able to choose from a selection of dishes that you want to make for each meal. We were all able to pick a curry, soup, a stir-fry, and a noodle dish, and a dessert.

Thai food is based on a mix of five flavors: sour, salty, spicy, sweet and bitter. When balanced correctly these flavors create complex tastes and aromatic meals. The mix of these flavors and balance of the sweet vs. sour and sour vs. salty, bitter vs. spicy, etc., etc., can really change the entire flavor profile of the dish. Throughout the class we would experiment with our sauces to detect the difference in flavor if we added more fish sauce or squeeze more lime juice. Most dishes we made used the same group of ingredients, it was really the preparation and sauce that would completely change the taste of the meal.

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Since most of our class didn’t eat breakfast, we started our day making the soup. The soup didn’t take long at all to make and it was a great starter to satiating our empty bellies. We had the option of either making Tom Yam (a slightly sour soup) or coconut soup (a creamier version of Tom Yam). I went with the traditional Tom Yam but mixed it up a bit with a few teaspoons of coconut milk to give it a creamier base. Adam went all out and made a coconut vegetable soup.

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Tom Yam with Shrimp

INGREDIENTS

1-5 crushed hot chillies
1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms
1 stalk of lemongrass ( slice into 3cm long pieces )
1/4 cup of sliced onion
1/4 cup of sliced galangal
1/4 cup of sliced tomatoes
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 tsp. of lime juice
2 tbsp. of fish sauce or soya sauce
1/2 tsp. of sugar
1/2 tbsp. of shrimp chili paste
2 cups of water
5 shrimps ( take the heads off and keep )
1 tbsp. of chopped spring onion
1 stem of coriander plant
1/4 tsp. of salt
2 leaves of Thai parsley

PREPARATION

Put water in a pot, heat until boiling. Add lemongrass, galangal, shrimp chili paste, shrimp heads and onion. Cook until fragrant. Add tomatoes, shrimp meat and mushrooms. When done, flavor with fish sauce, salt and sugar. Stir thoroughly and finally add lime juice, spring onion, Thai parsley, coriander and lime leaves. If not spicy enough add hot chillies. Serve with rice.

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Our second dish for the day was a curry. I chose red curry with chicken. Before the cooking began, we first had to make our own curry paste.

The before:

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And the after:

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The red curry was one of my favorite dishes of the day. I love how the spicy flavors of the curry work with the creamy and cool coconut milk. It’s refreshing and brings in the heat in tandem. The curry is the dish I’m most looking forward to recreating at home.

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Red Curry with Chicken

INGREDIENTS FOR CURRY PASTE

2-3 red dried chillies ( soak in cold water about 15 minutes before using )
1 tbsp. of chopped shallots
1 tsp. of chopped galangal
1/2 tsp. of chopped kaffir lime rind
1 tsp. of chopped garlic
1 tbsp. of chopped lemongrass
1 tbsp. of chopped krachai ( or ‘Thai ginseng’ )
1/4 tsp. of roasted cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. of roasted coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. of salt ( or 1/2 tsp. of salt if you would like to keep the paste longer )

OTHER INGREDIENTS

1 cup of sliced eggplants ( or other vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli or potato )
1/4 cup of smaller pea-like eggplants ( MAKHEAU PHUANG )
1/3 cup of sliced onion
70 grams of sliced chicken
1 tsp. of sugar
1 tbsp. of fish sauce or soya sauce
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 stems of sweet basil ( HORAPAA )
1 cup of coconut milk
1 cup of water

PREPARATION OF RED CURRY PASTE

Put the ingredients for the curry paste in the mortar. Pound with the pestle until everything is mixed and ground thoroughly. You can also use a blender.

PREPARATION OF RED CURRY

Pour the coconut milk in the pot and turn on to medium heat. Stir until oil appears. Add red curry paste and chicken and stir until almost done. Add your vegetables, water, sugar, fish sauce, salt and turn the heat up. Stir a little. When everything is cooked, put the sweet basil and lime leaves. Serve with rice.

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Posing with my red curry

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To accompany our curries, we also each made a stir-fry dish. I made the fried chicken with basil leaves and Adam made the sweet and sour chicken. I love the smell and taste of holy basil so I was really excited for this dish.

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Chicken with Holy Basil

INGREDIENTS

100 grams of sliced chicken
2 tbsp. of oil ( soya bean oil or palm oil )
5 cloves of crushed garlic
1/3 cup of sliced long beans
2-3 hot chillies
1 cup of holy basil leaves
1 tbsp. of fish sauce
1 tbsp. of oyster sauce
1/2 tsp. of sugar
1/4 cup of sliced onions
3 tbsp. of water

PREPARATION

Pour the oil in the wok on a low heat. When oil is hot, add garlic, onion and chillies. Stir until fragrant. Add chicken and turn the heat up. Stir until well done. Next add long beans, fish sauce, sugar and oyster sauce. Add a little water. Stir together well. When everything done, add basil leaves and stir once again. Serve with rice.

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For our noodle dish, I opted for spring rolls over making Pad Thai. I’ve been eating a decent amount of Pad Thai (and watching a decent amount be made in front of me), so I wanted to try something new.

Also, at this point in the day, our class was starting to feel like zombies. The double curry and stir fry meals made everyone full and loopy. We were starting to all go a little stir crazy. We felt like little kindergarteners that really needed a nap. The spring roll was a little less intense than the Pad Thai, so I was happy to have a brain break.

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Spring Rolls

INGREDIENTS

1 tbsp. of grated carrot
1/2 cup of finely sliced cabbage
1/4 cup of finely sliced onion
1/2 cup of bean sprouts
1/2 cup of glass noodles ( dried glass noodles have to soak in cold water about 15 minutes until soft )
1/4 cup of sliced tofu
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of pepper
6 spring roll sheets
1 tsp. of soybean oil
1 stem of coriander
1 tsp. of sugar
2 tsp. of soya sauce

INGREDIENTS FOR DIPPING SAUCE

1 red chilli
1 1/2 tsp. of vinegar
2 tbsp. of sugar
1/4 tsp. of salt
1 clove of crushed garlic
1 tsp. of flour
1/3 cup of water

PREPARATION OF SPRINGROLLS

Heat up the oil in the wok. Add tofu, cabbage, onions, carrots, bean sprouts, sugar soya sauce and salt. Stir fry until vegetables are soft and dry. Turn the heat to low. Add glass noodles, coriander and pepper. Stir fry again until mixed well. Set aside to cool.

Take a spring roll sheet and put some filling on it. Fold the sheet over the filling. Roll a bit, then fold the sides in and roll up tightly. Before closing, glue with some mixed egg. Deep-fry the spring rolls until golden brown.

PREPARATION OF DIPPING SAUCE

Crush garlic and chili. Put in a pot together with water, salt, sugar and vinegar. Heat on a low fire to boiling. Mix flour with some water and add to the mixture to make thicker.

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Masterchef Adam!

For dessert we made one of my favorite things in the whole wide world, mango sticky rice. It’s incredible, two months ago I didn’t even know mango sticky rice existed and now, I don’t want to live in a world without it. It really needs to become more popular in the US. It’s so good and delicious and it just makes you happy. Luckily, now I know how to make it if I’m ever hit with a craving.

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Mango Sticky Rice

INGREDIENTS

1 cup of steamed sticky rice
1/2 cup of coconut milk
1 ripe mango ( peel, remove the seed and slice into pieces )
1-2 tbsp. of sugar
1/4 tsp. of salt
1 tbsp. of roasted mung beans

PREPARATION

Put coconut milk, sugar and salt in a pot. Heat until boiling. Turn the heat off. Add steamed sticky rice. Mix together well. Let it cool. Serve with mango and top sticky rice with mung beans.

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Bon appetit!

We really had the best day at the cooking school. It’s up there in the top of my favorite activities while traveling list. It was definitely great to make these classic Thai dishes, but my favorite part was just hanging out with a great group of people and goofing off and learning together.

All recipes via Thai Farm Cooking School

Destinations, Food, Thailand, Travel

Photo of the Week: Enjoying Street Food in Chiang Mai

May 13, 2016

This week has been relaxing. We’ve been in Chiang Mai for a little over two weeks and have crossed most of the tourist “to-do” items off of our checklist. We’re starting our adventure at Elephant Nature Park in a few days and we’re still a little unsure of how physically intense the volunteering will be. So instead of running ourselves ragged around Chiang Mai and showing up to ENP exhausted, we’ve been just hanging out and centering our day around finding food and coffee. It’s been most pleasurable.

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One of my absolute favorite things about Chiang Mai (and Thailand) is enjoying street food. There is something so wonderful about ordering a delicious bowl of freshly made noodles and then posting up at a little table street side to people watch. On top of that, you can also walk over to the nearest 7-11 (there’s always one within a few feet) and grab a beer for about $1USD to accompany your noodles. Heck, sometimes the beer is more expensive than your dinner.

Thailand is a place that assaults all of your senses and my favorite time for that to happen is while slurping down a bowl of noodles.

Destinations, Thailand, Travel

Photo of the Week: Relive Resort in Chiang Mai

May 6, 2016
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We’ve been in Chiang Mai, a city in Northern Thailand, for the last week and for four of those days we stayed at the most wonderful resort about an hour outside of the city. I found Relive Resort through airbnb and it looked like the perfect place to just get away and be in the country for a few days.

We’ve been in big cities like Bangkok and Singapore for the last couple weeks, so it was a really nice break to finally see some green grass and mountain landscapes.

At Relive we slept in a bamboo hut and ate each and every one of our meals from the resort restaurant. The food was wonderful, the staff was beyond great, and even better – they had two hilarious little puppies at the resort. It was a stress-free few days.

We took one small zip lining adventure while in the mountains, but most of our time was spent relaxing, eating, and for me – reading the Harry Potter series over again. I’m through book three and have no intention of slowing down.

We still have another 11 days in Chiang Mai before our next big adventure at Elephant Nature Park begins and I’m seriously tempted to escape again to Relive Resort. It was that awesome.

Destinations, Thailand, Travel

22 Ridiculously Awesome and Cheap Places You Can Stay in Thailand Through airbnb

February 24, 2016

Now that I’ve totally booked our New Zealand itinerary, I have my eyes set on our next destination: Thailand. I’m not anywhere near the point of booking accommodations, heck I don’t really know where we’re going in the country yet, but I have started to look at average prices of hostels, private rentals, and awesome little beach bungalows.

What I’ve found is that Thailand is cheap. Like stay on the beach for less than $50 a night cheap. Like stay in a hostel on the beach for less than $20 a night. And that’s just the beachy parts of Thailand, Northern Thailand is even cheaper. My budget persona is totally here for this.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on airbnb looking at Thailand accommodations and wanted to share some of my favorites. My goal with this post is to show anyone who might want to travel to Asia understand that while it can be expensive to get there, it’s cheap to stay. Check out these 22 incredibly awesome and ridiculously cheap airbnb places in Thailand. All come in at under $100 a night and most are under $50.

Southern Thailand airbnb Accommodations

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This sweet bungalow on the Ko Lanta island sits directly above the sea and can be rented for only $49 a night.

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Who cares if your bungalow doesn’t have air conditioning when you’re paying $19 a night to be a 5-minute walk from the beach?  This group of bungalows near the Tonsai Limestone Cliffs on Krabi is a steal.

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A condo with a pool that overlooks the beach? Sign me up. Especially for $23 a night.


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Located on Ko Phayam, these bamboo houses are awesome. You can rent one of these cottages for only $25 a night.

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This place on Ko Tao overlooks the water and is only $55 a night. Bright blue water from your bed? WANT.

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I really wish you could rent a full beach house in Charleston for only $58 a night. I guess we’ll have to go to Ko Pha-ngan instead.

Pattaya, Thailand

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I’m obsessed with this traditional Thai home in Krabi. I love the wood walls and high pointed roofs. I also love the $52 a night pricetag.

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Hi! Please sign me up for the infinity pool apartment in Pattaya that’s only $52 a night. Please.

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My new requirement is only staying in places that have infinity pools overlooking the water and city. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for. Especially for $40 a night.

Bangkok, Thailand

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This super modern apartment in Bangkok looks like something out the future. And guess what? $14 a night.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

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Things get even cheaper in Northern Thailand; this garden room in Chiang Mai is only $23 a night.

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This farm stay accommodation sits on a pond surrounded by rice fields. It looks gorgeous and is only $37 a night.

Pai, Thailand

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Only $22 a night to stay in one of these bungalows along the river in Pai.

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This modern loft style accommodation is unique from most homes in Thailand, but the price matches up at just $23 a night.

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I really don’t think I’ll make it through Thailand without staying at one of these eco cottages. This group in Pai is only $34 a night.

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More cottages in Pai. This one comes in at $10 a night. Yes. $10.

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They’re located a little off the beaten path, but these bungalows are only $18 a night. I wouldn’t mind going remote for a week to stay in a place like this.

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Talk about a unique place to stay. These bungalows are lakeside and only $13 a night.

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Are you sick of bungalows yet? These huts in Pai overlook the mountains and are $14 a night. I’ve spent that much on a glass of wine before.

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How long can we go? More bungalows and a lower price. $11 a night.

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Things are getting fancy! This resort in Pai features all the modern amenities I might crave after staying in too many bungalows. I’ll gladly pay $47 a night for that room.

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This room that overlooks the golf course near the Cambodian border comes in at $46.

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There are thousands of places to stay in Thailand, this list just scratches the tiniest bit of the surface. I’m so pumped to see it all for myself.