Best of South East Asia: #1 – Luang Prabang, Laos

My last and final post wrapping up my summer travels is about Luang Prabang, Laos. Immediately upon arrival we noticed how kind and friendly all of the locals were. We quickly fell in love with this sleepy little town..

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One afternoon Carrie and I were shopping and met a man named Michael. He was in the shop giving the workers English lessons.

Michael invited us to his house for his advanced English lesson that night. We knew this was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. We made arrangements and before we knew it we were on the back of two of his students bikes’ headed to his house.

 

 

On our way to Michael’s house I chatted with the student driving me, Her. I was immediately impressed with his English. Once I complimented him, he told me that Michael had helped him get a scholarship to a United World College School in the Netherlands. He was just home for the summer and visiting Michael and the rest of his friends.

We arrive at Michael’s house – which turns out also to be where a lot of the students live. Michael not only teaches these kids English, he houses and feeds them.

We sat down at the front of their classroom facing a class full of boys from the ages of 15-25. They had smiles on their faces and were eager to get to know us. We talked to them about where we are from, where we live and what we like about Laos. The boys asked us questions we were happy to answer. We had an opportunity to also ask them questions.

I asked, “Why are you here? Why do you want to learn English?” Michael then called on some boys and we heard about the ways that English is improving their lives. Most of them are working towards becoming fluent English speakers so they can get better jobs to help provide for their families.

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These boys are a true inspiration.

They work so hard every day to better the lives of themselves and their families.

Carrie and I left and knew that we had to do something to help.

We have so much in our lives.  We have more than we need. We are so fortunate to be able to travel and see the way in which others live.

I’m asking YOU to help. Help Michael, his program and these boys as they work towards bettering their lives. Any amount you can give would be appreciated.

Check out the Go Fund Me page Carrie has set up for more information and to donate. Michael also created a video to get a true feel of how these boys live and benefit from his program.

 

Best of South East Asia: #2 – Elephant Nature Park

When we were planning our South East Asian adventure we knew that we wanted to spend some time with elephants. After a couple conversations we decided to do the right thing and choose a spot that treats the elephants with the respect they deserve.

We found the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. ENP is a rescue and rehabilitation center for elephants that you can volunteer and visit. We decided on the ‘care for elephants’ single day visit.

Carrie and I were unbelievably excited. We arrived and immediately got to feed the elephants.

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This was a bit terrifying but pretty amazing. After that we took a little walk with the elephants through the forest.

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The elephants are absolutely massive.

Pure joy.

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We stopped for a snack break. We fed the elephants cucumbers, watermelon and sugar cane.

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This elephant let you feed it directly into its mouth.  The elephants tongue touched my hand. It was weird and incredible.

After we ate lunch it was time for us to get in the river and bathe the elephants.

Now, let me tell you.. immediately before we got into the river the elephants got in.. and took a nice poo.

I was barefoot. I wasn’t thrilled to walk into this crap colored river with a squishy bottom after seeing that. Obviously I did it because.. hello, I’m not an idiot.

 

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Yes, Carrie and I make some wonderful faces.

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We’re standing on poo. 

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I never thought I’d be so happy to walk in a crap river, touch an elephants tongue and get farted in the face by an elephant. It was a pretty incredible day. A day that will truly go down as one of the best days ever. Thank you, Elephant Nature Park.

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And yes.. we went home and scrubbed our feet and bodies for way too long.

Best of South East Asia: #3 – Halong Bay, Vietnam

Coming in at number 3 for my summer recap is our cruise along Halong Bay, Vietnam.

I barely need any words to explain why this is so high on my list.

I mean.. just look at this place.

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We took this three day, two night cruise. It wasn’t the cheapest cruise we came across but we decided to ‘splurge’ on this part of our trip. We didn’t mind.

Halong Bay is made up of nearly 2,000 islands. It makes for stunning views regardless of where you are.

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We ate SO much on our cruise. This was lunch one day. FOR THE TWO OF US. img_1772

Big surprise– I took a time lapse! This may be my favorite one I’ve ever taken.

The views were beyond gorgeous.  We luckily had beautiful weather (not always the case during rainy season!) and we even made some friends which we met up with at our next stop. (Hi Alex and Rohan!)

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So.. is Halong Bay now added to your list of ‘must visit’ places now?

Best of South East Asia: #4 – Thai Farm Cooking School

Continuing my epic summer recap– coming in at #4 of my favorite memories of the trip was learning to cook Thai food at Thai Farm Cooking School in Chiang Mai.

Carrie and I didn’t plan too many things before we left but this was something we knew we wanted to do. We both love thai food and like to cook so it sounded perfect.  We decided to go to the Thai Farm Cooking School based on a recommendation from our friends.

We got picked up at our hotel and headed to a local market with our guide, Wass.

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The way they cut pineapple in Asia is genius. I would wind up seriously injured if I attempted this.

We got to try Thai iced coffee for the first time. Coffee is made with sweetened condensed milk all over South East Asia. It made for the perfect (most high caloric) iced coffee ever.

We left the market and headed to the farm with our group.

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Wass, our instructor, gave us lessons on the various vegetables used in our dishes in the garden. She was hilarious. And clearly pulls off that hat better than I do.

We all got to choose what we wanted to make. Carrie and I decided to try to make different things to get the most out of the experience.

First up was the curry. I made green curry and Carrie made yellow. Both consisted of a lot of work with the mortar and pestle.

Next we made soup. I made Tom Kha coconut soup. Carrie made Tom Yam soup. The interesting thing was all our ingredients were the same except mine was coconut milk base and hers was water. They tasted so different.

I loved this soup. oh man it was delicious.

After the soup it was time for some spring rolls.

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Yep. They were as delicious as you would think.

Finally it was time to cook our ‘main dishes.’  The green curry that I made early would now finally be cooked. Along with sweet and sour chicken.

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Green curry. YUM!
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This was a tiny little eggplant. It was SO bitter. I ate around it.
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Sweet and sour chicken

The last part of the day was to cook our dessert- mango with sticky rice.

img_1618The rice was dyed by boiling coconut milk with a flower.

Overall, this day was pretty amazing. Wass was absolutely hilarious which made our experience so much more enjoyable. We heard the phrase ‘same same, but different’ a ridiculous amount of times. Every time she laughed..and we did too.

We laughed SO much and we ate incredibly delicious food. Their website has some of the recipes, so you too, can try some!

How often will I actually put the recipes I learned to use? My guess is not too often. However, I’ll always have those skills and be able to say ‘Yep, I learned how to cook this in Thailand.’ : )

Best of South East Asia: #5- Angkor Wat

This summer was a pretty epic one. It started off with four weeks bopping around four countries in South East Asia. Carrie and I had planned this trip over a year and some change. We gathered info from everywhere- blogs, friends, guidebooks.. it was info overload. We had google docs and google maps overflowing with info. Which made for a pretty fantastic trip.

Our trip took us to four countries – Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. We moved around pretty often. We dreaded packing/unpacking our backpacks, but got quite good at it by the end.

I’m not going to recap every part of our trip just my top 5 favorite memories.

Coming in at number 5 is actually our last stop of our trip- Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Just a short tuktuk ride from Siem Reap.

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Angkor Wat is a temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world. It is nearly 400 acres. We spent two days there and still didn’t see it all.

A popular thing to do is get up very early to catch the sunrise- if you know me at all you know I love a good skyscape. I wasn’t missing that one. Waking up at an ungodly hour, we jumped in a tuktuk and headed out.

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The early wake up was worth it. Gorgeous! Bonus- it wasn’t that hot and the crowds were manageable.

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Considering this was built around the 12th century it was mind-blowing. The carvings and sculptures, called bas-reliefs, looked flawless.

Next we headed under the South Gate to the next stop. The South Gate was so cool and our first glimpse of many faces we would see.

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A lot of what we saw was ruins. So much so that sometimes it felt like it was a bit unsafe..
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I thought this was amazing. However.. it was nothing compared to what I would see later.

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Our first day concluded around noon. It was hot, we were tired, but we returned the next day- for the two most anticipated temples.

First was Bayon Temple. Aka the temple of faces.

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Doesn’t look like anything but piles of rocks, until you get close enough.

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There are 216 faces – some in better shape than others – carved into 54 towers. It was unbelievable.

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Our last stop was Ta Prohm. This temple was complete overtaken by trees. (Angelina Jolie also filmed Tomb Raider here)

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It was hard for me to wrap my brain around this place.  After seeing that many temples they all started to blend together. Luckily we did two half days, or else I think I would’ve lost appreciation for them. If you go here I would suggest definitely breaking it up into multiple days. A day ticket is $20, 3-day ticket costs $40. We got the 3-day ticket and used it only two days, because thats all we had time for.

If its not on your bucket list already, it should be. Seeing this in person is necessary.