Sunday, December 15, 2013

Epic Adventure Day 12: VietFighter day

This had a been a MUCH anticipated day on the itinerary. A month or so before I began my adventure I had been in contact with Matteo about the upcoming visit. He informed me that during my visit, his gym would be hosting a "Fitness Challenge."

 It was a free event, open to anyone who could come. Teams of three would complete a 15k relay around the lake (each member running approximately 5k), 3 minutes each of pull-ups, sit-ups, pushups and the ever loved, burpees, and finally each member of the team would complete a short obstacle course. Each team was comprised of 3 members, one of which must be female. Some of the teams were having a hard time finding a girl, so Matteo suggested I join and it seemed like it would be fun, so why not?

The day started bright and early, with Matteo, Rachael and I all scrambling to get ready and get out the door. Upon arrival I was introduced to my two teammates and then there was lots of waiting around and fake smack talk. The local climbing gym VietClimb had put together several teams and with one exception, I think all the teams were either VietFighter or VietClimb … which of course lead to some fun rivalry. 

After a quick overview of how the day would go, we sent the first runners out the door and the rest of us loaded up onto various motorbikes and headed to the first exchange point for the 15k. Myself and one of my teammates hopped on a moto with the owner of the gym. (3+ people - one moto… we call that family style) Since the two guys on my team had been living in the area for a while and I have a truly unnatural ability to get lost, we decided I should take the 2nd leg which was strictly by the lake (no navigating from the lake to the gym or gym to the lake). After getting lost multiple times (assuming that the owner of the gym would actually know where the first exchange point was… bad assumption!) we finally pulled up about 5 minutes before my teammate came jogging in.

I took off on my section of the run feeling really good, but desperately wishing we had started earlier so that it wasn't so hot! I ended up passing two girls from VietClimb, and while I had never actually attended a class at VietFighter, it was Matteo's gym, both my teammates were from there and they did give me a tank top… so i felt like an honorary member and therefore took pride in passing the VietClimb girls. I was also closing in a girl from VietFighter, but she got to the exchange point about 10-15 seconds before me. 

The third runner on our team took off, and I rode back to the gym with Matteo to await the arrivals. Our third guy passed the girl I had been closing in on, plus two more and our team finished 5 out of about 10 (I think). Overall, the VietFighter gym came out on top for the most part on the run.

Next was the strength portion of the challenge, also known as the part where I am useless. On the roof of the gym were two long bars perfect for pull-ups. Each bar fit two people perfectly, and we  began to cycle through. I'm not sure why everyone seemed surprised, but it only took the first two VietClimb guys to get on the bar before VietFighter knew they would be decimated in that event. Having never been able to do a pull-up in my life, I jumped up, grabbed the bar, pulled and strained for about 10 seconds before deciding it'd be better to save my muscles for all the other crap I would have to go through. So I played cheerleader for my teammates. 

We continued on through sit-ups, which Matteo insisted had to be standard all the way up, elbows to knees style, push-ups - chest to mat, boys style only, even for the girls, and then burpees - oh yeah chest to mat on those bad boys too! I finished each event with embarrassingly low numbers for the 3 minute time periods and probably shouted, "Can't I just run another 5k?!?!" at least once during each set. (Which was actually funny, because I was clearly the only runner there that day, everyone one else was talking about how brutal the run was.)
Sit-ups (Photo stolen from VietFighter's fb page)

Push-ups! (Photo stolen from VietFighter's fb page)

Finally it was time for the obstacle course. It was a short little circuit including some long jumps, quick stepping through a ladder thingy, lifting and carrying a punching bag across the room, good ol' elementary school style crab walk across the room (MUCH more difficult to do at 32 than I remember it being at 6), and something I think was called a frog run… let's just say it wasn't pretty. I was slightly less embarrassed by my obstacle course performance than I was the strength portion. I was one of the few girls who managed to get the punching bag up on my shoulder and I didn't fall over with while running with it (several members of both sexes did).

Obstacle Course (Photo stolen from VietFighter's fb page)

In the end, I think our team finished 5th of 10, I've always strived to be averaged!! I think 2 of the top 3 teams were VietFighter, so yay for that!! Honestly, the best part was seeing how supportive everyone was. Sure it was a competition, but everyone encouraged and pushed each other. During the strength portion, a member of another team would count the reps, and they were constantly saying things like "Come on, you can do it!," "Only 30 seconds left, you got it!," "You're doing great!" And that was pretty much always followed with a high five or pat on the back at the end.
All the participants! Go us!!

Afterward, not everyone, but a large portion of us headed out for much deserved lunch… street food Vietnam family style. Matteo needed to wrap up some stuff at the gym, so we were some of the last to arrive and rather than making people shift around so that I could sit with Matteo and Rachael, I just grabbed a seat at the end and made some new friends. About 7 or 8 dishes in, I did get up and go to the other end of the table to chastise them both for not warning me that the last part of the fitness challenge was actually marathon eating!

The food JUST KEPT COMING!!! And everything was amazing… and I wasn't sick the next day. Don't get me wrong, I love Thai food… but Vietnamese food is just a different level. And I'm not just talking about the Pho that seems to be the new craze in the Western world… Everything I ate was delicious!! Even the frog wasn't bad (boney little dudes though)! Below are photos of just a few of the many dishes served.

Beer and food with a bunch of awesome (sweaty) people.

Fried frog!

Veggies with pork! 


Fried chicken feet. Still haven't been able to bring myself to try these.

After gorging ourselves on food, Rachael, Matteo, and I hopped on his moto and rode family style back to their apartment. Perhaps the best moment of, certainly the day, perhaps the trip, was as we turned the corner onto their street. A mototaxi driver that they use frequently was standing on the corner, and actually applauded as the three of us rounded the corner on one moto.

Back at the apartment, we took turns hitting the shower and then laid down for much needed naps! Later Matteo drove me to the train station to buy my ticket for the next day and we met up with a couple of Rachael's co-workers for dinner. 

Total cost: 1,684,000 Dong ~ $80.19 USD (This was mostly the train ticket at 1,380,000dong. Lunch, which was the most expensive meal I had in Vietnam, and included roughly 2 hours of eating and drinking beer hoi, came out to a whopping 210,000dong, or about $10 USD… did I mention how awesome Vietnam is??)

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sometimes life changes...

This is a break from the Epic Adventure. I swear I'll get back to it. I AM still writing, I will finish!! But today, this…

I had a moment today where I realized how drastically my life has changed over the past few years. Today, I went out for a run, as I do 5 days/week. At almost exactly two miles, I got to the largest shopping center in my immediate vicinity and I proceeded to run around the perimeter, passing an Ikea… and I had no desire to go in. As I pondered this, I started to think what I would even buy if I did go in. What could I need from Ikea? You see, I used to drive 3-4 hours one way to go to an Ikea and then spend several hours there shopping, only to turn around with my purchases (often strapped to the roof of my car) and drive the 3-4 hours back.

After college I did what many, but especially American's are taught to do. I got a good job. I bought a car. I bought a house. I was in long term relationship and we had two dogs. I was living the American Dream. I won't go into all the details, but things changed. The relationship ended. The job went away. I sold my car, moved out of the country, and eventually the house sold. Save for a pile of crap some friends have graciously stored for me and a couple meager (by US standards) accounts, I'm pretty much asset free though, with the exception of student loans (meager by US standards) also debt free.

My current salary is under the poverty line in US. While I used to live in an 1800 sq. ft. house - 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, 2 car garage, bonus room - I now live in what I estimate to be a less than 300 sq. ft. studio apartment. Though by US standards I don't think we'd actually call it a studio. Maybe more like a dorm room, since there's no kitchen. The "selling points" for the apartment are air-con, a sink (besides the one in the bathroom), and there is actually a divider between the shower and the rest of the bathroom (no hot water), which is an improvement from my last apartment. (Though shower between your sink and toilet is always a great way to start the day).

I don't have a car. I don't even have a motorbike anymore. I don't have a TV. I mentally debated with myself for days before allowing myself to "splurge" and purchase an electric skillet, because I wasn't sure if it was worth spending the approximately $18. My clothes haven't been dried in a dryer in I don't know how long, because I don't have access to one. With the exception of eggs in my electric skillet, I never cook for myself, because it's cheaper to eat street food.

Back in the States, my then boyfriend and I used to go to "home shows" on the weekends occasionally.  We'd tour multimillion dollar houses and dream of the day we could live in one, or at least one that had some similar features, like a pool table and theater room in the "basement." (Weren't basements made for storage and access to all the under the house stuff?) I now enjoy trolling websites that give designs for "tiny houses" - usually small enough to put on a trailer bed and pull behind a truck or SUV… even better, I dream of living in a tour bus.

If you don't know me, you're probably thinking my life has gone to crap, and I should probably do something to pull myself together. The truth is, I'm really happy. I know that probably doesn't make sense to most people, and I know this life isn't for everyone. This isn't meant to be preachy. I'm not one of those "give all your stuff away" people. Hello!! I'm typing this on my MacBook, and when I finish I'm going to go read on my iPad. But maybe, just be open to the idea of something different. I'm by no means suggesting that you sell your house and car and flee the country… although… I never imagined this being my life, but I'm so glad it is.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Epic Adventure Day 10-11: Ha Long Bay

I know I'm waaaaay behind, but the rest of the adventure is coming, I SWEAR!!! Some of it's even written, it's just a matter of getting pics up and blahblah and … just stay tuned!!!

On the morning of the 10th Matteo drove me on the scary moto to the travel agency to wait for the bus that would take me to my Ha Long Bay tour. I was picked up (about 30 minutes late... of course) and after a couple other stops we embarked upon the 4 hour journey to the port. About halfway through, we of course made a stop at one of the big "buy crap" locations and then were off again. When we arrived, we were herded into a small waiting area and some people got a nice refreshing glass of tea... I was not one of those people. Soon we jumped onto a small boat, donned the awesome bright orange life preservers, and were headed out to our luxury cruise liner, well, kind of....

The crew stood at the entrance to the boat and waved at us as we pulled up. We all settled into the dining room where we were given keys to our rooms and a brief explanation of the day's events. We had a bit of time to get settled in and then lunch was served. I've always been wary of seafood, and where I live in Thailand I avoid it completely, because I've come to realize that it pretty much all comes from the river which is absolutely vile!! Lunch was almost entirely seafood, and while I hesitated for about 2 seconds, I couldn't have been more pleased once I dove in!

After lunch there was a bit of time to relax and enjoy the sun deck...

...before arriving at one of the floating villages. Here we had the chance to hop in a traditional boat and have a local paddle us around, or man our own kayak and paddle through the bay on our own. I chose the kayak route which was quite relaxing and fun. (I worked at an outdoor adventure company for nearly a year and half in CR and never managed to go kayaking... now twice in a week!!!)

Back on the big boat, we enjoyed a few more minutes on the sundeck, before arriving at the beach. I grabbed my goggles and was excited to do some actual swimming, but quickly discovered that the beach area was small, and there were many people from many cruise boats there, so it didn't work out so well. Instead, I lounged on the beach and watched the sunset...

Sorry Ha Long Bay... you're pretty, but you've got nothin' on my Punta Leona.

When we boarded the big boat again, we were told it was happy hour until dinner time, buy 2 get 1 free (not the best happy hour, but I'll take what I can get). I hung out with the two Serbian and two American guys on the boat until dinner. Dinner was about as awesome as lunch. You certainly won't be hungry if you go on this cruise! I also managed to sit myself next to the couple from Spain, giving me a solid 30 minutes of conversing in Spanish... oh how I miss it (even with that funky accent!).

After dinner it was back up to the sun deck (or maybe it would be considered a moon deck then?) where at chatted with two lovely Finnish women who had left their husbands behind for a girls adventure.

The next morning was breakfast and then a stop at the Surprising cave. While it was a very cool cave, I'd say the most "surprising" part was the waiting to get in... and then through it. Again, LOTS of boats, LOTS of people!! It was pretty impressive though, and our guide took time to point out some of the interesting features of the cave and give us a chance to take pictures...

We finished up with lunch on the boat (even though we'd only had breakfast about 2-3 hours before... they really don't want you to be hungry!) and then headed back to land. As a parting gift, the boat crew gave us vouchers for massages at a place back in Hanoi. The places was conveniently located around the corner from where I was dropped off, so even though the voucher didn't fully cover the massage… it just seemed like the right thing to do.

That night was dinner and more beer hoi with Matteo, Rachael and friends and heading to bed early for the next day's fitness challenge!!!

Total costs: 10th - 145,000dong, 11th - $23 USD + 391,000 dong ~ $48.53 for both days

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gooooood morningggggg Vietnam!!

Since the 9th was a Wednesday, both Matteo and Rachael had to work. Rachael works at an international school and was up and out quite early. Matteo is an instructor at a gym so he had a morning class to teach but then came back to the apartment and got showered and we were able to hang out together for the day. 

We went for brunch and I had my first taste of Vietnamese food, I instantly knew I was going to like this country.

Next Matteo navigated us on his moto (a feat far more impressive in HaNoi than in Pathum Thani) to The Old Quarter, an area popular for tourists and littered with hostels and travel agencies and therefore perfect for booking my tour of Ha Long Bay. 

After getting that squared away, we explored a couple local markets in search of dad's playing cards and Uncle Ralphy's flag (funny, I buy those items for them everywhere I go, but not always something for myself). Again the flag was a success but all the cards were plain playing cards with no indication of where they were from. Sorry again dad. 

Next we went for a walk around a lake and stopped for a photo of this very accurately scaled globe.

There was also a pagoda or temple (not sure which is which or what the difference is) we explored and it was interesting to see the vast differences between Thai and Vietnamese temples. This particular temple has a legend surrounding a turtle that retrieved a sword from the bottom of the lake and brought it to the king (I think it was the king.... Maybe). As we walked around we actually encountered a turtle going for a stroll through the temple. Hi there Mr. Turtle. 

Next was the flag tower where you could climb about halfway up to get a decent view of the city and of the collection of planes below. The planes were those that Vietnamese captured during the wars with France and the US. It was quite interesting and Matteo and I discussed how it seemed odd that they were all outside, exposed to the elements and with no protection from people climbing on them. 

After some people watching and delicious iced coffees, we headed back to the apartment so Matteo could get ready to teach a class at the gym. 

Rachael was going to attend the class that night and they invited me to join, but from the beautiful rooftop they have I spotted the lakes with a long stretch of road that ran between the two lakes and I swear I actually heard it calling me to come run. 

The small lake was about 2.5k and I made the first two loops as the sun was going down. No gps, no hr monitor, no music, just me and Lake Truc (and the hundreds of people on the street doing tai chi, selling food, selling other crap or trying to get you to come eat at their reataurant). By the end of the third loop it was dark and I ran the last with just the lights from the streets and restaurants. As I finished and walked up to the apartment I thought to myself, "I just ran a 10k in HaNoi, Vietnam. Yep, this is my life."

That night we went to dinner with some of Rachael's coworkers who also live in the building, and I got to experience beer hoi for the first time. Beer hoi is "fresh beer" brewed daily in nearly every little roadside restaurant in the area. Because it's brewed that day, the alcohol content is very low, but at about $0.25/glass you can afford to drink loads of it to get your buzz on. 

Family style eating is also quite common in Vietnam, so we ordered several dishes and everyone just dug  in. At the end of the night we were all well fed and the beer hoi had not stopped flowing. The waitress brought the check and I just laughed when for the five of us the grand total came to about $13USD. Have I mentioned I kinda love Vietnam?

Total for the day about 180,000dong + $120 USD (Ha Long Bay tour) ~ $128.57 USD. Two pricey days in a row. Yikes!

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Epic Adventure Day 8: OUCH! That was expensive!!

On Oct 8th I woke up and snagged the free breakfast offered at the hostel. There was a French guy in my room and we had talked about going to the nearby waterfalls that day. He snagged a songtaew and negotiated 75000kip and we were off. I knew that was a bit expensive, because a group had gone the day before and only paid about 30000kip each, but I figured splitting 75k wasn't that much more, so whatever.

We rode in the back of the songtaew along the bumpy road for about 45 minutes to the waterfall place. We each paid the 20000kip entrance fee and headed into the park to explore. We quickly came upon the small
bear rescue they have. Cutest little bears ever, some were probably only as tall as me.

As we continued through the park we found many waterfalls and pools for taking a dip.

We continued up up up on what was a somewhat challenging trail, especially considering I was still fighting that stupid cold. In the end it was worth it. At the top you could walk though a large pool and stand right at the top of a giant waterfall and look down. 

After enjoying the view and snapping some pics we headed back down for a swim.

It was clearly marked which pools you could swim in and which you couldn't. We saw one with a rope swing on the way up and that's where the French guy wanted to go. We didn't last too long swimming as the water was quite cold.

When we arrived back at the hostel I  discovered I should never let a Frenchman do my negotiating as the 75,000kip was actually PER PERSON!!! Ridiculous!! Too hungry to care, I headed out to find lunch. A delicious sandwich on baguette bread with a mango smoothie. Sandwiches aren't really a thing in Thailand so when I saw chicken, bacon, cheese and avocado on the side of the street for just a couple bucks, I was all over it. So good.

A bit later the hostel owner called me a songtaew and I headed to the airport. There I found a Laos flag for Uncle Ralphy and discovered that playing cards with famous things on them, aren't really a thing here. Sorry dad!

I ended up chatting with an guy from the US who had been working in Thailand for a while and was now traveling. As we walked to the plane I had to snap a pic because I've never actually been on this type of plane before....

I was a bit nervous arriving in Vietnam as I had applied for Visa on Arrival. Until recently you had apply for a Vietnam visa in advance which for me would have meant going to Bangkok waiting and doing whatever paperwork etc was necessary, leaving my passport with the Vietnam embassy and making the journey back to Bangkok a few days later to pick it up... Assuming it was approved.

Recently Visa on Arrival has been made available for people flying into Vietnam via HaNoi or Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). You fill out an online form and pay about a $15-20 USD fee. The company submits your info to immigration and in about 2-3 business days emails you a letter that you present on arrival, pay he visa fee and they give you your visa there. Much more convenient, but if I've learned anything in travelling, it's don't trust that these things will work until they actually do.

Lucky for me, everything went very smoothly. There was a window marked Visa on Arrival and I presented my letter, passport and of course an additional passport photo (they really love having photos of people in this part of the world) and a few minutes later my passport had a new giant sticker and stamp.

My friend Matteo had arranged for a driver to pick me up at the airport and pretty soon I was off the his apartment. En route, I discovered that while in Thailand a moto is considered a family vehicle (I've seen 5 people on one), in Vietnam, it's a moving company...

Matteo lives with his girlfriend Rachael (yes those are nicknames and it's funnier if you knew their actual names) and when I arrived he came down to meet me.

There was a bit of confusion and the guard seemed VERY angry and didn't want to let me in. Rachael, who speaks a bit more Vietnamese than Matteo came down to try to figure out what was going on. Eventually we got everything sorted out, but later discovered that the guard didn't think Rachael was home... And Matteo was bringing some random girl up to the apartment. Pretty funny.

We had a few drinks and chatted about life since we'd last seen each other (when Matteo and I were both working at a language center in Costa Rica) and then called it a night.

Pricey day!!: 183,000kip + 500baht + 215USD ~ $254.59 (includes visa and "on arrival" service, flight to Laos, most expensive flag I've ever bought Uncle Ralphy, grossly overpriced songtaew to the waterfalls, and a fairly pricey cab ride from the airport.... OUCH!!)

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Epic Adventure Day 7: Not so Epic, but there was kayaking!

On the morning of the 7th, I got ready and waited for the bus to come pick me up to take me to the kayaking tour. (It was late, of course!) The trip started in an only about half full 15 passenger van, but we were quickly transferred to a songtaew that had kayaks loaded on top. There were only five of us in the group so it wasn't too bad. 

When we arrived at the river, the kayaks were unloaded and I realized that since I was alone, and the others were couples, I'd be sharing the two person sea kayak with our guide. He was a pretty muscular guy, so I decided this wasn't a bad thing. 

After working at Outward Bound I'm accustomed to a safety first approach and found it quite odd that there was no safety kayaker and no helmets. Then again, the river was flat enough that we were in sea kayaks, not river kayaks, so maybe it wasn't that big of a deal. 

With no instruction about how to paddle or what to do if you fell out, we hopped in and started paddling our way down the Nam Ou river and eventually meeting the Mekong.  After two days on the slow boat, you'd think I would have seen enough countryside views from the river, but it was really nice to be out in the sun and actually doing something physical instead of just sitting. We passed a couple tiny villages where half clothed (or sometimes not) children shouted greetings to us as they jumped and splashed in the water. 

We pulled off to the side at one point for a break and enjoyed a little beach time before heading on to the caves. (I got some pretty good pics along the way, but they're on the waterproof comer and will have to wait til I get back to a computer to be posted.) Once there, we hauled our kayaks out of the water, found a place to sit and have our lunch and then headed in to check out the Pak Ou Cave.

Perhaps it's because I've actually been caving before, or that I've been to a lot of temples and seen A LOT of Buddhas, but I have to say I was pretty underwhelmed by the cave. I probably could have seen everything in about 10-20 and frankly none of the Buddhas were terribly impressive. 

There was a pretty sweet view of the river, but apart from that, kind of a let down. 

One of the other girls expressed the same sentiment saying, "I wish you could see how I pictured this in my head. We were going to kayak into the cave where there would be an island with a giant temple in the middle and all around would be the Buddha statues." Yep! That's the tour I wanted to go on. 

We returned to the kayaks and kept paddling towards the Whiskey Village. At a certain point I put my paddle down to get some water and the guide asked if I was tired. I told him it wasn't that my arms or shoulders were tired from paddling, but my hands were sore and fairly close to getting blistered. He told me to sit back and sing a song and that he would do the work and then started ferociously paddling. When one of the other girls shouted, "you're so lucky!" I told her she should have booked the luxury cruise, it was MUCH nicer. 

At the Whiskey Village I was once again, underwhelmed. When we arrived the locals had already made the whiskey for the day. Our guide showed us the giant clay pots they use and tried to explain the distilling process but it obviously just wasn't the same. We did get to sample a couple things. One was a sweet tasting pink liquor that you could pour over ice and enjoy alone.

The 100 proof whiskey on the other hand, was the worst tasting thing I've ever had. Worse than Costa Rica's guaro, worse than Peruvian Pisco. Awful!!
And of course they had stuff with snakes, scorpions, etc in it, all of which claimed to have extra abilities beyond getting you wasted. 

I thought the trip would be redeemed by the shopping, but the shops offered very little and everything was the same. We returned to town and I went back to my hostel mostly disappointed, but glad to have gotten a little workout in on the kayak at least. 

I decided to treat myself to a pedicure (worst pedi ever) and picked up a couple small things for myself in the market before calling it a night. 

Cost: 190,000kip + 90 baht ~ $27.26USD (not including the tour which was included in yesterday's sum)

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Epic Adventure days 4-6: I'm on a boat.... STILL!!

After sleeping for 15 hours straight and waking up not really feeling any better, I decided to take it easy on the 4th. Other than heading out for food, I pretty much stayed in bed and blogged and caught up on other stuff.  Not exactly epic, but I thought it might help (it didn't). I had booked a service to get me to Luang Prabang, because I decided I was too lazy to work out all the logistics myself. They picked me up an hour and fifteen minutes later than originally planned. After several other stops and bouncing around in a songtaew for over an hour, we finally loaded into the minivan to take us to the border.

The van wasn't full so it was a pretty comfortable ride. We arrived at 2am (the website said we'd get there at midnight) and were shown to "dorm" style rooms that seemed reminiscent of summer camp. Crappy beds, dirty bathrooms with only cold water, and only one outlet (because we clearly don't need to charge any devices before getting on a boat for two days) in the room which was for the fan... no air con. In the morning we had a fairly decent breakfast of scrambled eggs with toast and coffee. After some scrambling around to make sure everyone had what they needed for the border crossing (they require a passport photo for the immigration form), we did the stamping out of Thailand, hopped on a ferry and crossed the river to Laos where we went through the immigration process. It was all very easy and super quick in comparison to other countries I've been to.

We were then corralled onto another songtaew and taken to a little shop where we could buy food and drinks for the boat. Finally we were on the boat!!  (There should be a video embedded, but I'm not convinced it actually worked, so just in case....

We arrived at our stopping point for the night a little earlier than expected and were immediately bombarded by people offering rooms at various guesthouses around town. Another girl and I had already booked a place with the guide who got us on the boat. I'd read that you can get a better deal if you wait and do it there, and I think that's true, but the other girl wanted to book it and I wasn't sure I could get a better deal if I had to pay for a single. It worked out and the place was alright.

Walking up the sandy hill to the town those tin roofed things in the background are the slow boats. 

The town itself obviously survives strictly on the fact that the slow boat stops there on the way. Beyond the places to stay, you get tons of people telling you that their restaurant is the best etc. We ended up eating at a cute place with good food and a free whiskey sample (okay!). There was also the super adorable little girl who I wanted to stuff in my backpack and bring home. 

Most people were tired from a long day on the boat and called it an early night.  I used the free wifi to skype with some people before turning in myself. 

The next day was pretty much the same. Floating down the river on a boat.... For 8 hours!!! Once we got to Luang Prabang, a group of us shared a songtaew to the hostel that one guy had actually booked in advance. We got lucky and they were able to accommodate the other 7 of us who just showed up! We got settled in, found a nice place for dinner and called it a night. 

Day 4 - 1996 baht ~ $64.38USD (includes hotel pick up, slow boat ticket and 1night shitty hostel)

Day 5 - 360baht + 143,000kip + $36USD ~ $66.58USD (includes visa to Laos, $35USD + 1 for weekend overtime - no joke, hotel at slow boat stopping point, beer for the boat - very necessary, meals and all the other normal crap)

Day 6 - 275,000kip + 540baht ~ $52.67USD (includes next day's tour, and all the other normal stuff)

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Epic Adventure day 3: Just Yum!!

On October 3rd, I woke up and got ready for a day of cooking. After
cuddling with tigers, you'd think a cooking class might not be a super
exciting stop on the itinerary, but I LOVE Thai food and could not
have been more excited to learn to make it authentically.

After a slight delay and passing my phone to the woman at the front
desk of the condo office so she could give proper "Thai" directions, a
van arrived to pick me up. I piled in with 6 or so people already
inside and we chit-chatted as we drove to the city office for Asia
Scenic (the cooking school). There we were separated into two
predetermined groups and served coffee/tea/water while they collected
our money (1000 baht for the farm course) and sorted everything out.

As we sat at the table sipping our coffee, I struck up a conversation
with the other two people who were from the US, two sisters traveling
in Thailand for a couple weeks. Of all the tourist attractions in all
of Thailand, what are the chances that 3 Indiana girls end up at the
same cooking class?!? Even funnier, they're from Noblesville!! We
quickly bonded over our joint need to get out of Indiana as fast as
humanly possible, and for that matter, the Midwest in general. One
sister is currently living in NY and the other is just about to finish
her masters in Michigan and is headed for Seattle.

Next it was back in the van to head the local market. There our
instructor, A, (yeah that's the name he goes by, just the letter A...
And I know I usually give nicknames on this blog, but since he's a one
day character here and technically A is a nickname... We're just gonna
roll with it) walked us around the market giving us a quick little
lesson on things like the various types of rice and peppers. We also
had a little time to wonder the market on our own, which gave me time
to have a delicious mango smoothie. Score!

Back in the van we made the journey out of town and to the farm. It
was beautiful!! A couple buildings, including the one that housed all
the stoves and would be the center for our cooking class, and a huge
variety to plants - lemongrass, multiple types of basil, rice, a
variety of chili peppers, fruits, bizarrely shaped "pumpkins."  It was

A gave us tour of the property having us smell many of the different
spices, then it was off to the kitchen to start the good stuff. We sat
at a large table where there were two plates like you see in the
picture below.

A explained that it's good luck to give guest this welcome snack when
they come to your house. I looked warily at the contents of the plate
thinking "wouldn't some Chex mix or Tostidos and guac work?"

A walked us through making a little "pocket" out of the leaf and then
filling it with the contents of the plate. Once we had everything
assembled we were to eat it whole. I cautiously popped it in my mouth
and BAM - flavor explosion!!! Delicious!!! I guess by now I should
know that while the Thai's do some things really weird... Food?
They've got that down.

After enjoying the delicious snack, it was time to get down to
business. First on the slate was "Thai fast food." We had three
options: Pad Thai ("the boring one" according to A), Pad See Uw (I've
also seen this spelled Pad See Ew -
Spelling is a bit.... Flexible in Thailand) and something else.

Having recently discovered a deep love for Pad See Uw, I opted for
that. A explained that the technique for all three dishes was the same
and the ingredients were the only real difference. We prepped all the
ingredients and watched him cook up a quick Pad Thai explaining the
steps in the process. Once he finished we headed to the woks to give
it a try ourselves. A walked us through all the steps until we had
made our own personal "Thai fast food" dish. Not that I could possibly
be biased... But mine was definitely better than the stuff I buy on
the street.

Next it was time to tackle the appetizers and I couldn't wait to make
my own spring rolls. Since you never make one spring roll, one person
cooked up all the ingredients that go into the spring roll and then A
gave us step by step instructions on rolling two of our own. Before we
fried them, he inspected our work informing us all that we had "ugly
spring roll babies."

After enjoying our appetizers we had about a 30 minute break to relax
in the hammocks before we started "non-stop cooking."

We started by working in groups to make 3 different types of curry
paste. We ground fresh ingredients together with a mortar and pestle
to the sounds of A saying "harder, faster, don't stop... You make good
curry paste you be good wife." He was quite the character.

Next we chopped ingredients for our soups and curries. We whipped up
dessert rather quickly followed by the curries and finally our soups.
Finally we sat down I enjoy the fruits of our labor. YUM!!!

After we ate, we loaded back onto the van and were dropped of at our
respective accommodations. Having been fighting a cold or something
for a few days, I headed to a pharmacy to see what they could do to
help. 570 baht later, I left with a bag full of drugs and a plan for a
nap. I got back to the condo and since I had a nice full belly from
the day's activities, I popped the first round of various meds I'd
been given and laid down. When I woke up around midnight, I decided
perhaps it was okay to skip dinner and just call it night. Epic
adventure day 3, definitely a win.

Total for the day 1601 baht. That includes the drugs which I highly
recommend travelers budget for. If you're traveling in SE Asia it's
almost guaranteed you'll need to stop at a pharmacy for some ailment
along the way.