Wednesday, May 13, 2009

If only Jon Stewart were here.

One of my favorite pastimes while traveling is taking in a good cultural performance significant to the country I am in. My reactions to these varied cultural performances, well, vary. While I walk in with an open mind there are times when the performance just does not jive with my personal taste. Sometimes I doze off, sometimes I let out a quiet chuckle and at other times I’ve gone so far as to sneak out a bit early. That being said, no show to date rivals that of the highly anticipated Dagar Brothers at Delhi’s Summer Music Festival.
The Dagar Brothers musical group consists of three very talented, gifted musicians and one dedicated vocalist and by dedicated I mean takes himself way too seriously. The performance itself can only be described as “voice throwing” or the crafting of one’s voice to sound like a musical instrument. I know what you’re thinking, “Hey, that sounds pretty neat.” And you’d be right - in theory it does.
Dana and I arrived at the performance space about 45 minutes early to snag ourselves a great seat. At 6:30pm, as promised, the illustrious Dagar Brothers came on stage to warm up and tune their instruments.  Two brothers were on the electric sitar, another was on the drums and the eldest, the lead "vocalist", was situated center stage in a cross legged position. After adjusting his legs for about 30 minutes, he greeted us with a welcoming, “Well, lets see how it goes today, right? Maybe it comes out, maybe it doesn’t. I’m not really in the mood. Let’s see if the mood gets better, these things don’t always work.”

I was shocked.  His tone was so indifferent! What kind of "get us psyched" attitude is that? Talk about setting expectations low. He certainly knew how to kill the mood. Part of me was appalled and another part intuitively prepared to experience what could be a funny performance.  

And by funny I mean freaking hilarious. The performance kicked off with the electric guitars hitting a consistent note while the lead vocalist started throwing. As if the "voice throwing" itself was not funny enough, the vocalist's gestures, facial expressions and body movements were enough to throw Dana and I both into internal fits of laughter. His eyebrows furrowed, hands and arms moved with reprimanding force and at times lightened up to what could only be described as the gesture of an innocent question. If one could hit mute and watch the video of the performance several times on one's computer one would be very tempted to fill in the blanks with dialogue.  

What made matters worse is that most of the audience was quite taken by this performance, as was Avnish, the owner of the guesthouse who brought us to the show. Avnish was to my right and Dana was to my left. I felt caught between the little Angel/Devil on my shoulders. Every time I glanced at Avnish, who was watching and embracing and appreciating the show I tried to calm down and see the beauty in this art form. Just when my internal hysteria would temporarily quell, a small squeak of laughter would escape Dana to my left and I followed suit.  Eventually it all came out, 10th grade style.  We both keeled over, laughter and tears escaping from our eyes. I acted like I had to sneeze. I pretended I needed to cough. The jig was up.  We were caught.

I took out my video camera. Maybe this would distract me. I needed footage of this. I couldn't help but think that some comedic genius needs to witness this show. Jon Stewart. Tina Fey. The comedy G-ds must know! 

Thankfully we grabbed some great footage of both the performance and our reactions to the performance.  We will have to wait until we return to the states to share the video since the Turkish gov blocks YouTube. More on that later!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Chasing Cambodia

In an effort to have the most fulfilling experience possible, Michael and I came to Southeast Asia armed with guidebooks, articles and suggested itineraries from former traveling/expat friends. All of our resources had served us well but no recommended reading brought us quite what we were searching for as did a recent NY Times article entitled, “Banishing the Ghosts in Cambodia” This article, published on Sunday, March 15th, would lure us to small towns on the southern coast of Cambodia – Kampot and Kep.

Cambodia is a country currently going through a slow rebirth. Its recent tragic history of the notorious Khmer Rouge cleansing has left the country in a dire state. In an effort to turn
Cambodia into a communist state focused on agriculture rather than industry, Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge movement, set up cleansing camps and labor camps to rid Cambodia of its intellectual leaders and wealthy citizens resulting in a nation of peasants. He decided to empty the cities of their inhabitants, claiming that the cities are breeding grounds for any resistance to his cause. In Phnom Penh he went so far as to turn a children's high school into a prison, famously known as S-21. He converted classrooms into torture chambers and built brick walls to create barracks. His reign lasted from 1975-1979 and during that time Cambodia saw the death of approximately 2 million of its citizens. **Wikipedia.

There is optimism in the air. Recognizing Cambodia’s need for support from the global non-profit community, many NGO’s, such as Epic Arts, have set up camp here in order to help the locals get back on their feet. While everyone realizes that this is a long-tern recovery process, there is reason to believe the current conditions will improve.

After spending a few days in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, we hopped on a bus to head
south to Kampot and Kep. We arrived in Kampot rather late and checked into the modest Blissful Guesthouse in the center of the deserted town. At the hotel bar we befriended a group of European/Israeli travelers and headed out for beers at Honey Bar. Reconfirming my theory that Milton Bradley’s Connect Four has a monopoly on Southeast Asian board game imports, we sat down to a few games before heading home.

The next morning, after waking up in an overheated haze due to no air-con we decided to wander around town. One of the unfortunate side effects of traveling through SEA is the inevitable development of a tough exterior when dealing with transport vendors. As a tourist, when walking down the street in just about any SEA city or town, taxi drivers, tuk-tuk drivers, moto drivers, bike drivers and rickshaw pullers are constantly soliciting their services. Just as we finally found some 
peace and quiet a tuk-tuk driver approached us and offered to drive us around. Michael, noting my impatient expression, took the reigns and responded with his patient phrase of choice, “Not today my friend, today we walk.” Disappointed, the tuk-tuk driver simply sat down next to us and handed us his card with a number on the back..
"You call me I give you good price”, he said with a friendly and genuine smile, clearly eager to work. We thanked him, got up and walked around, taking in Kampot on the way to breakfast at the 
Epic Arts café. A young boy stopped right in his tracks and shot us a glance. He seemed curious, frustrated and a bit spent, an expression I was learning to accept in Cambodia. 

After eating a delicious meal of a salty egg omelette, toasted bagel, baked beans and banana shakes we exited the café. There he was, Van-Din, our relentless tuk-tuk driver, parked right outside our door. “You need transport? I give you good price!” he shouted flashing an irresistibly enthusiastic smile. We decided to accept. Tenacity like this certainly deserved to be rewarded. 

After negotiating a good price we hopped in the tuk-tuk and headed off to Kep. Nothing could have prepared us for the scenic route on our way there. We opened up the conversation with Van-Din and quickly learned that he recently graduated from high school. This is quite an 
achievement for a boy from the Cambodian countryside. Van-Din's parents firmly believe in education and are determined to send all of their children to school. He completed four years of study in three because he excelled academically. He told us that we would be passing his high school on the way to Kep so we asked to stop in and take a look around. A few moments later we pulled up to the unkept and rusty gate of Van-
Din’s school with a sign that read, “Anaridoh High School”. Kids ran around and played on their bikes. Since graduation Van-Din has taken out a loan for approx $350 USD to buy both his motorbike and tuk-tuk. His goal is to save enough money to put himself through University which in Cambodia costs about $270USD a year. As we drove along we made various stops to take in the scenery. Perhaps the most unlikely of friends, you could clearly see that Van-Din appreciated our curiosity and that a bond was forming between all of us. 

Shortly thereafter we arrived in Kep. We passed the famous crab market and Kep’s Lady of the Water statue. Cambodian lore states that her husband left to head out to sea, as he was a fisherman, and never returned so she is there waiting for him to come back one day. Oh women.

Pretty tired out, we all decided to rent hammocks by the beach, grab a few cold drinks and sit back and take in the Kep shoreline. I set out to wander around Kep’s rocky beaches and took a moment to breathe it all in. The air was charged with an electricity that was impossible to deny. A free standing tree stood just meters away having grown out of the rocky and infertile soil. It stood there, defiant, symbolic of the Cambodian people who despite all odds will once again thrive as they had before political and social ruination. In that moment I felt relieved, lighthearted and happy. 

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Market shopping, Thai Cooking class and Shimmering Sunset Runs.

When planning for our trip through Southeast Asia we set out to spend between two and four days in each city, town or beach outpost. Undoubtedly during this type of trip there will be certain places that you connect with more than others along the way.  After breezing through Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Phi Phi we arrived at the quaint mid-sized city of Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand. As it turned out, Chiang Mai was my type of city.

Chiang Mai has two definable portions of the city, the Old City and the New City. A moat and a fading brick wall with four entryways, on the South, West, East, and North walls, surround the Old City. The vibe of the Old City can be most easily compared to the Alphabet city portion of the East Village – streets and alleyways lined by quirky shops, local markets selling fresh produce, small parks, low-level apartment buildings and guesthouses for travelers like ourselves.

Soon after settling in at our hotel, The Raming Lodge, I signed up 

for a Thai cooking class that would begin that very morning. Asia Scenic designed a workshop that would not only teach us a selection of varied Thai dishes but would guide us through local market shopping to pick the produce we would use that very day. After spending more than a week in Thailand I needed to learn the secrets to some of its classic dishes in the hopes of recreating them once I return back home.

Upon arrival at Asia Scenic in the Old City I met the other two members of my cooking class, Cynthia and Julia, good friends from Taipei, Taiwan who were spending a week in Chiang Mai on vacation. We were introduced to our quirky, hyper, self-conscious and over-zealous

cooking instructor, Lanee. Lanee greeted us with a zany enthusiasm that was at first a bit disturbing. She was certainly not the wise, kind and gentle Thai cooking instructor that I had in mind who would impart bits of wisdom on us as we sprinkled chives into our fried rice, but such is life. Luckily as time passed I found her disposition to be more entertaining than irritating so I went along with it!!

After ingesting cups of the Thai coffee equivalent of rocket fuel and selecting our dishes - Papaya Salad, Glass Noodles Salad and Chicken Pad Thai - we headed out to the local market. As soon as we arrived Julia, Cynthia and I got a glimpse of how much of a celebrity chef Lanee actually is in Chiang Mai!

We went around the market learning about various Thai ingredients, such as dried lemongrass and hot chili pepper, varieties of fresh rice and noodles, and exotic produce.

Some vendors greeted Lanee with nods of happiness and appreciation (no doubt they enjoyed her business) as others shook their heads in disapproval, undoubtedly fed up with her boisterous ways.  Once we loaded up on produce we headed back to begin cooking.

The beauty of Thai dishes is that the shopping and preparation take much longer than the actual 

cooking process.  Once everything is purchased and chopped up, all that 

is really left to do is fire up the wok, throw the ingredients in and sear them for 3-5 minutes.  Lanee guided us through all of the dishes mentioned above and we took breaks to sit and sample each dish. The flavors were heavenly and I was relieved to realize how easy they would be to recreate at home. Julia, Cynthia and I gladly sat down and enjoyed our freshly self-prepared Thai dishes.

After a few hours of cooking and eating I returned to the hotel, satisfied 

with the knowledge I gained in just one day.  I grabbed my iPod and decided to top off the evening with a sunset run around the moat and wall of the Old City. The city lit up in beautiful shades of hazy pinks and greys as the sun set behind the mountains of northern Thailand.  Lanterns swinging from rooftop bar posts began lighting up all around town, welcoming the evening crowd in. Having spent the day in Chiang Mai getting to know some locals, learning all about their food and topping it off with one of my favorite activities, a good run, I felt right in tune with the quaint mid-sized city.

***Recipe for Papaya Salad


1 tsp palm sugar, 2 tsp fish sauce, 1 tbsp lime juice


1-3 small chilies, Long beans - cut in 1 inch length, 4-5 pieces of fresh garlic, 1/4 tomato sliced, 1 papaya thinly sliced, 1 tsp roasted peanuts


1. Pound chili, long beans and garlic together until they start to break down. 2. Add tomato, palm sugar fish sauce and lim juice and mix thoroughly. 3. Add shredded papaya then mix. 4. Sprinkle peanuts on top and serve.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Paradise Found on Koh Phi Phi Island

As we make our way through Southeast Asia I am quickly learning the difference between actual nooks of privacy and overdeveloped backpacking enclaves. While I can enjoy a stroll down Kao San Road (road featured in the movie The Beach in Bangkok) just as much as the next person, I have come to realize that I really appreciate finding quieter areas off the beaten path. That being said, my heart dropped a bit when we arrived at Koh Phi Phi Island.  How is that possible you ask?

What originally seemed like every travelers paradise surrounded by impressive stalks of island growth speckling the surrounding Andaman Sea wound up being just another backpacker haven

As soon as we disembarked from the ferry we were greeted by flyer distributors advertising free Thai booze buckets all around town. The reality fairy whispered in my ear and I agreed - I was a bit out of my element.

I was unwilling to relinquish my dream of a peaceful island paradise. My feelings of disappointment quickly turned into those of absolute resolve. I was determined to find the paradise I envisioned and with help from our new friend from the ferry, Damien, this vision would soon become a reality. 

While traveling from Phuket to Koh Phi Phi Island we had the opportunity to review lists of hotels and hostels and make a selection. While reviewing the hotels we befriended a Frenchman named Damien who was traveling solo. The majority of the hotels were located right on the main strip. After passing a couple of places along the shoreline we decided that our options were certainly sub-par. Damien mentioned that he saw one that seemed pretty nice and reasonable – Tropical Gardens. The only drawback was that Tropical Gardens was a 25-minute uphill walk into the

Island. To me this sounded ideal. As we walked further and further into the island the crowds diminished and our surroundings became increasingly tolerable.  We arrived at Tropical Gardens and took a small tour of the grounds and reviewed a few rooms. Paradise Found!!

The small hotel consisted of several private bungalows built up on stilts a good 15 feet above ground. After taking a walk up a smooth stone staircase to the platform of the bungalow we were welcomed by a hammock tied up on the porch.

The teak exterior opened up to a sweet room, complete with rattan rugs, bamboo furniture, low lying pendants for ideal lighting, an indoor/outdoor bathroom with intense water pressure and a bamboo roof to boot. After settling in I ran up to cool off at the hotel pool and came across a lagoon-like pool area, complete with Buddhist statues, relaxing waterfalls, meditation mats and a poolside fried rice and beer stand.

It felt just right… in a biblical sense. After pinching myself I dove right in, head first.

Michael and Damien quickly followed suit. Smiles were gleaming from all of our faces. We splashed around in the pool, trying to take in how perfect our surroundings actually were. I swam up to the grub hut and ordered a large platter of chicken fried rice. After three minutes it was ready and I swam the platter and a few Singh beers to the other side of the pool where we all dug right in.

Lesson learned: When traveling, do not give up on your vision of paradise. With a bit of hard work and determination you will surely find it!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Lahu Tribe and our incredible Guide; Homie.

One of the most alluring reasons to travel to Chang Rai, a tiny morsel of a city, is its proximity to the various Hill tribes of Thailand’s northern forest region and the opportunity to experience them. When planning this type of overnight trek it is critical to have a tour operator and a guide that not only knows the area but can offer intimate experiences with the tribes (often done by speaking the elusive hill tribe languages).  Information about the history of the region is always a welcomed bonus. Upon settling in at the modest yet comfortable Golden Triangle Inn in Chang Rai, we set out on foot to interview the various tour operators and see which one fit the bill. 

After interviewing two tour operators who seemed to be more reluctant than eager to book our tour (not the best sign) we came across “Tourist Informations”, a Family-owned and operated tour service with the clever tag line, “We are honest in servicing & everything possible!”.  After speaking with Ane, the niece of the owner, we had a good feeling about the legitimacy of the tour. Ane allowed us to choose from two tour guides – Luu Niem, a young, vivacious and adventurous 25-year-old tour guide, or Homie, an experienced and incredibly knowledgeable 64-year-old guide who spoke the indigenous hill tribe languages and has been doing tours for 30+ years. We instantly connected with the idea of having Homie as our guide. Undoubtedly his pace would be a bit slower but that sat just fine with Michael and myself.

Our instructions were simple,: Bring a small bag with one change of clothes, bug repellant, some snacks, a bathing suit and flip-flops.  When asking Ane, “Are you sure there is nothing else we need to bring?”, she responded, “Well, yes… be sure to bring your heart.” At that moment my excitement solidified. We were about to wander the forests of Thailand and meet native tribes…finally!

We took off the next morning at about 10am and drove two hours outside of Chang Rai. Homie decided to take us up the back route and make a stop at one of his closest friend’s restaurants along the way for a home cooked meal. Who were we to argue? After

trekking for a few hours, we came across the roadside food stop, owned by Homie's friends, young couple who had their newborn baby along with them. She quickly whipped us up some delicious chicken fried rice and allowed me in the kitchen while she cooked. Michael and I fueled up and took to the road once again.  

Just a few hours later we arrived at the Lahu village. We entered an incredibly modest home 

and placed our backpacks down. The Madam of the village, also our hostess, welcomed us with a bucket of frosty beers and chilled water. We were eternally grateful. Homie suggested that we take a walk around the village to soak it all in while he take a small break from our trek. 

The sights were simply overwhelming. The village consisted of several small huts built up on stilts and covered by thick, woven bamboo roofs. Homie told us that if built correctly, the bamboo roofing could last close to five years.  Livestock, consisting of chickens and their young chicklets,

pigs, and family dogs all shared the same space as the children, teenagers and parents.  Hens sped across the paths protecting their black-tailed young as we wandered around. We received a mixed welcome from the members of the village. Some villagers seemed curious as to why we were there, some acted celebratory and others seemed flat out irritated, snarfing at our attempts to say hello. An extremely friendly woman who was in the midst of

preparing her banana tree leaves in bundles for next day's market wanted to take a picture with us. One glance at her T-shirt and and we couldn't refuse as it read, "New York, I love you but you're bringin' me down."!!! You simply can't make something like that up.

**As an aside, we completely understood the villagers varied responses to our presence, after all its not every day that someone walks into my apartment, says hello in a language I do not recognize and asks to take pictures of my daily routine.  We were careful to be as respectful and sensitive of their privacy as we possibly could. 

After moseying around the village and meeting just about everyone we headed back to our hut to prepare for dinner.  I took a glance inside the hut’s kitchen and immediately wanted to dive in 

and help!  I asked Homie if I could assist, he found this request rather odd.  I explained my love for cooking so he (a bit reluctantly) started to give me small tasks, peeling and chopping fresh cucumbers, onions and tomatoes. The kitchen smelled delicious. A raw fire was burning straight in the middle of the room as wrought iron pots and pans slowly brought oil and water to a sizzle and a steam.  My chopping board was a raw slab of tree trunk chopped perpendicularly.  The smell of the wood permeated each slice of vegetable. I had died and gone to heaven. After an hour or so of prep work Homie insisted that we take a break. Sounds of children playing right outside our hut

made the transition painless for me and I gladly agreed. I exited the kitchen to a view of the most precious kids I’ve ever seen!  Smiling and glowing faces, pure child-like joy, imaginations unfettered by afternoons in front of televisions, computers or video games, bounced up to say hello.  We played for what seemed like hours, never tiring of games such as low-five, high-five and three-rocks.

When we finally worked up a good appetite, dinner was served.  We dug into several dishes, consisting of fresh eggs with chopped chicken, tomato/cucumber/onion garnish, “American"

French fries, fried lima beans with a salty crust, chicken wings with spicy Lahu sauce and a boiled potato/onion dish. The tastes were indescribable! The family gathered round and we all dug in. The children gobbled up their food and the wives and husbands laughed as they took breaks to take sips from their beer and drags from freshly rolled tobacco cigarettes.  We were surrounded by love, happiness and delicious basic food and drink. It was one of the best meals of my life.

After about three hours 'round the dinner table it was time for bed. I could hardly wait for the morning. The thought of being woken up by the sound of a rooster and a crackling fire burning in time to prepare breakfast brought a smile to my face. Ane was absolutely right. We brought our hearts to the village and certainly left a piece of it behind.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Connect Four... and... Whores?

In stark contrast to the ever peaceful and serene surroundings at the beaches of Phuket, about a half an hour taxi ride away, lies Patong, the backpacker haven filled with tourist targeted restaurants, sleezy bars, filthy clubs and of course, the ever prevalent Thai lady bar.

After spending a few days in Bangkok and now arriving in Patong, I’ve quickly learned how commonplace the Thai lady bar and Thai prostitute really is.  While I consider myself a moderate, both politically and socially; and an undoubtedly independent woman, I found this completely shocking and disturbing at first.  The streets of Patong were bursting at the seams with women scantily clad and willing to sell their services at the drop of a hat, no questions asked. In speaking with one of the prostitutes we quickly learned that they pretty much lead a double life. The money that this profession affords them greatly out pays any other basic 9-5pm job and allows them to support their families and in some cases even purchase and invest in property. 

 Earlier in the evening at the hotel we befriended a group of Finnish travelers. We all decided to meet up at the club Seduction owned by an acquaintance of theirs from back home in Helsinki around 11:30 that night. After grabbing a burger and fries at Patong’s “McFadden’s Bar” we strolled over to Seduction and approached the bar to order a drink. We happily found our Finnish friends and made some new Russian ones along the way. The club oozed of smoke that enhanced the purple neon glow lights emanating from the built-in ceiling fixtures. The bartender approached us and requested our drink order…Enter the Thai booze bucket.

In an incredible feat of efficiency, the Thai booze bucket enables its victim to order and ingest what would normally be between 3-4 alcoholic drinks in just one sitting, and for the grand total of a mere 90 Baht ($2.85 USD). After downing a bucket each and lighting

some Sambuca on fire with our new Russian friends we decided to take a walk around town.       

While passing through the Patong’s main strip we decided to stroll into a Thai lady bar and see it for ourselves. The men brushed it off as “research” and us girls were willing to play along.  After ordering up a couple of orange breezers hugged by foam coolers to keep our drinks nice and cold, we took a look around. Thai prostitutes slung around the bar enticing foreign men to dance, talk or have a drink.  At first we all felt a bit uncomfortable, our new Finnish friends and myself exchanged glances of “can you believe this?"

“this is outrageous”, etc. while the men stood around simply mesmerized by the exhaustive selection of available women.  After a while we were able to ignore our surroundings and just have some fun.  As it turned out the DJ was actually great! 

We danced until the wee hours of the night and I just about lost all place of where I was when out of the corner of my eye…. There it was.  A shiny, innocent game of connect four; yellow plastic frame with red and black chips replaced by a the more exotic black

plastic frame, neon pink chips, neon green chips version! A Thai prostitute and a gentleman started playing the game! One of my favorite childhood board games was being used as a lure tactic! We all turned around and realized that Connect Four was set up on tables all around us. With no other reaction possible at that point we all burst into uncontrollable laughter.  After all, we had just survived the Thai Lady bar, Connect Four and all.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Phuket has returned… and so have the pirates.

After spending a few days in Bangkok I was particularly ready for some beachside relief.  On the southern tip of Thailand, on the coast of the Andaman Sea, lies the beach town of Phuket, famous for its decimation during the December 2005 Tsunami. I can vividly remember watching as the tragic events of the Tsunami unfolded and as innocent tourists and locals alike were swept away from their morning breakfasts. Recently, I heard reports that Phuket’s infrastructure had been revitalized – I was eager to visit the island and see for myself the progress that had been made.

While both Mike and myself are traveling on restricted budgets, we decided to weave that in with a few luxury experiences to rejuvenate and recharge our engines. Enter the Sheraton Grand Laguna Phuket The luxury Starwood resort featured beautifully manicured gardens, a river of pools ideal for swimming laps, a main entranceway fit for Thai royalty and beautiful white sand beaches. 

As soon as we arrived I dropped my bags in the room and made a dash for the beach. Skipping over Sheraton’s selection of “fine dining restaurants” in search of an authentic and budget friendly meal, I came across Lazaro’s, a simple and rustic food stand that allowed me to enjoy my meal with toes in sand.  Upon exploring the site I noticed they kept their seafood incredibly fresh, and by fresh I mean alive. Massive blue buckets connected by flimsy oxygen tubes were kept alongside the teak bar with live and swimming sea bass, red snapper, lobster, and other types of fish indigenous to Phuket. I was admittedly impressed.
After a quick dish of spicy Thai beef salad – a lovely dish of seared beef, slices of fresh onion and tomato, garnished by cilantro, lime and Thai parsley, I took to exploring the shoreline.

The expansive shoreline of Phuket featured several quaint and seemingly authentic open-aired beachside food outposts, rickety bars preparing themselves for the afternoon happy hour crowd and locals fishing and enjoying peaceful family gatherings in the shade of short palm trees.

After walking for what felt like another hour or so I came across Casnaria Bar, which undoubtedly had a gnarly pirate vibe to it. This was right up my alley. My entire life (whether consciously or subconsciously) I’ve had an obsession with pirates and a love for their dangerous freewheeling lifestyles (enter Captain Jack Sparrow). Here it was, live in the flesh right in front of me! A secret pirate hideaway on the sleepy beaches of Phuket! I felt as though I had stumbled upon my buried treasure! 

The pirates (restaurant staff) quickly exited Casnaria Bar and headed towards the surf. 

Their bodies were as smooth as beach rock; polished and perfected by the pounding of gentle waves. They flashed me a smile and hopped into a long tailed boat docked right off shore, waving as they took off. They motioned to the ocean, revved their engine and sailed away before I even had a chance to say goodbye... taking my heart and mind with them...

... as I’ve always dreamed a pirate could do.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sticky Chicken Fried Rice

Upon leaving New York I felt both eager and apprehensive about relying on a range of food from Southeast Asia for close to 5 weeks.  When frequenting seemingly authentic restaurants in New York I often leave with a bit of a heavy and sometimes even lethargic feeling after feeding on foods sauteed or fried in "brown sauce" and "peanut curry".  I was relieved to discover that the meals to follow were anything but heavy; on the contrary, Thai food has left me feeling invigorated, energized and surprisingly healthy, a parallel experience to one recently had on my trip to Mexico, documented by our Hungry Roach at

Thailand is the number one producer and exporter of rice in the world. I feel safe in assuming that their rice supply is therefore one of the freshest and varied ones around. The variety that is used to create Thai sticky rice (white grain aged for a few months to increase water retention upon steaming) has become almost an addiction for me. While I have always been a lover of all things leavened, rice may just as well become my carb of choice. 

After wandering through the buzzing streets of Bangkok for several hours during the peak of midday sun, we found ourselves completely exhausted, dehydrated and hungry. Luckily we came
across Harmonique, a lovely and serene restaurant with light and easy lunch options. At around only 80 Baht a dish ($2.50 USD) the price was right. As soon as the menus landed in our laps my glance went directly to the Limenade.  Sweet, tangy and refreshing the limenade was a welcomed alternative to lemonade. I quickly placed an order for 
chicken fried rice and Mike ordered up spicy chicken with cashews. The coconut chicken fried rice arrived in a perfect portion with garnishes of lime wedges, fresh cucumber sticks, chives and a spicy lime sauce for good measure.  The dish had a light, airy and tangy quality to it that enabled me to gobble it up in no more than 10 minutes. Mike dug into his dish just as quickly and found that it contained bits of sauteed onions
 and cabbage... a welcomed surprised. For anyone who knows us both and is aware of our ability to talk, at times a bit too much, I can safely say that for the first time on the trip there was complete silence. Eating this dish as my introduction to Thai food sparked a curiosity that I knew would only be quelled by taking at least a few Thai cooking classes along the way. "I have to take this experience home with me! Dinner parties must consist of food like this!"  
I was sold. Fresh sustenance, Thai style.