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We always say that travel ain’t always easy, but it is always exciting. The last 100 days were refreshing, frustrating, active, lazy, a bit embarrassing and entirely gratifying…We went from three weeks in Chicago to a quick stop in Denver and then on to our biggest adventure yet – South East Asia. We traveled through southern Thailand and Northern Laos until finally settling in for the month in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. Read on for our best and worst travel moments in the last 100 days, some serious food porn, and a couple of travel recommendations for Chicago and Laos.

Favorite travel moments

Dani says: Whizzing through Chicago on a Segway
We have seen tourists on Segways in plenty of cities and, we admit, we judged it as being too touristy, not for us and even a little dorky. After five minutes on our Segways from City Segway Tours though, we couldn’t have cared less how we looked – it was so much fun! Our guide spent time teaching us how to use these funny upright machines (which is actually a little tricky but manageable) and then we were off whizzing along Lake Michigan, through Millennium Park, past Buckingham Fountain and Solider Field down to Museum Campus.

segway tour chicagoJess says: Hiking with Tracey and Felix in Colorado
Before heading to Bangkok, we made a stop in Denver, Colorado for a week to visit my best friend Tracey and her fiance Felix.  The weather in Colorado was sunnier and warmer than in Chicago – a marked contrast to the blizzard conditions I experienced last time I was out visiting in early 2010. We took advantage of the weather and took in some of Colorado’s inspiring scenery and went on lots of hikes at Red Rocks, El Dorado Canyon and a long hike near Estes Park – which we followed up with a drink watching the sunset at the nearby Stanley Hotel (where The Shining was filmed!). We can’t wait to be back next June for their wedding!

hiking in coloradoDani says: Learning to cook Thai Food at the beach in Koh Lanta, Thailand
One of our best experience in Thailand so far has been the cooking class we took on Koh Lanta. We signed up for a class at Time for Lime, where our enthusiastic cooking instructor Junie introduced us to the art of Thai cooking in a beautiful setting right at the beach. She taught us about how to cut and prepare the main ingredients, or building blocks, to Thai cuisine, and then we prepared several dishes from Thai Red Curry to Thai fried rice with vegetables. The class was made unforgettable by our great group of seven students, a really high quality cooking facility, and our passionate instructor – plus the fact that our food turned out to taste amazing!

cooking class koh lantaFavorite places

Jess says: Chicago
Alright, alright, this is a bit biased – me being from Chicago and all. Whenever I am home, however, it is just always so apparent what a magnificent city the Windy City truly is. In fact, the more I travel, the more appreciation I have for Chicago. In the past 600 days we’ve been to over 30 major global cities, each with its own great qualities, of course, but Chicago stays right near the top no matter how much of the world I see. We love all the different neighborhoods, the friendly people, and the food! Chicago has such a wealth of international cuisine, and it’s so delicious. You can go to a small El Salvadorian restaurant for authentic Pupusas, or walk ten minutes for an authentic Serbian meal. Between the architecture, the infrastructure and the fact that Chicago is one of America’s greenest big cities – it just isn’t possible for me to leave Chicago off the list of my favorite places we’ve visited in the last 100 days (or ever).

chicago 2011Dani says: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai (population 150,000) is the perfect combination of historic and modern Thailand. Our current ‘home’, we love Chiang Mai for the way it balances new-built apartment complexes, chic restaurants and modern shopping centers with hundreds of remarkable Buddhist temples and traditional night markets bursting with simple, affordable, delicious food. There are two parts to Chiang Mai. There is the sleepy old town center, which is surrounded by a moat and parts of the ancient city walls, and then there is everything outside of the moat – which is a bit faster paced, buzzing, busy city with almost everything you could ever want to eat, drink, buy or do, plus a top university, plenty of great health care options and an international airport, train station and bus stations that will get you wherever you need to go.

chiang mai impressions thailandDani says: Nong Khiew, Laos
Until we arrived in Nong Khiew, neither of us were impressed with Laos. Why were people raving about the beauty of the country, we thought, as we passed through dusty, lackluster towns. From the minute we crossed over the Nam Ou river in Nong Khiew, however, we were sold! Nestled within a mystical mountain range, this sleepy little town sits on either side of the river, mainly a series of small houses and bamboo bungalow huts connected by an impressive road bridge, and dozen of long, wooden boats below. The village is cheap – private riverside bungalows run between $7.50-$12.00 per night, there are plenty of restaurants with Lao, Thai, Indian, French, Italian, even German, cuisine and our first experience in an invigorating herbal steam room. Had we not already put a deposit down on our Chiang Mai apartment, we could possibly be writing this post from Nong Khiew right now….

nong khiew impressionsMost disappointing places

Jess says: The islands in the Andaman Sea, Thailand
We admit that we might well be spoiled by having spent so much time in the Caribbean last year, but I don’t think it is possible to have been more disappointed by the islands in the Andaman Sea. Whenever we had heard about or seen pictures of the Andaman Sea, it was long, deserted white-sand beaches lined with palm trees. We were practically chomping at the bit to get out there, and Dani even booked me a surprise birthday week-long vacation getaway at a resort on Koh Lanta. We loved the resort, the island itself was alright, but the beaches were far from stellar. Ko Phi Phi was even worse. This tiny, over-developed island is under-equipped to manage the deluge of unappreciative drunken tourists that frequent it. Most of the beaches are tiny, there is garbage floating in the water, and even basic, budget backpacker digs are far overpriced. Yuck.

Then it was on to Phuket, the largest of the Thai islands in the Andaman and by far the worst. We stayed on Patong Beach – which is lined with rows of deck chairs just like Europe in high summer and dead fish floated on the water near the shore, which had a stinky is-this-from-the-sewer smell to it. None of this was as disturbing as the droves of old, wrinkly Western men mounted on bar stools while way-too-young Thai girls mounted them. If I never witness sex tourism again it will be too soon. Double Yuck. We are still hoping that we love some of the other Thai islands, like  Ko Lipe further south or Ko Chang in the Gulf of Thailand.

phuket & phi phiDani says: Muang Sing and Luang Nam Tha, Laos
As mentioned above, we didn’t warm up with Laos until we got to Nong Khiew, and this was due, in part, to these two towns. They are not particularly ugly or unsafe or anything like that – they are just unremarkable, with little to impress visitors. We first went to Luang Nam Tha, a town that sits directly on the Laos tourist trail – we couldn’t figure out why. Then we tried to go a bit more local, and drove two hours further up to Muang Sing, a little town just 2 miles from the Chinese border. Although it was interesting to see how strong the Chinese influence was (Chinese supermarkets, Chinese food, mostly Chinese immigrants), Muang Sing also left us with a ‘meh’ feeling.

Best Food Moments

Dani says: Native Foods Cafe, Chicago
After sustaining a terrible diet during our summer road trip, while we were in Chicago we decided to try as many of the vegan restaurants in town as possible. Jess often toys with the idea of going vegan, and this was a great chance to test whether vegan food would satisfy us. Some places were good, some were boring – and then we discovered the Native Foods Cafe. The vegan restaurant is actually a chain from California with three branches in Chicago (and one in Portland). We could have eaten here every.single.day. The dishes are creative, heaping with fresh organic vegetables, and for the quality of the food, it is not too expensive.

native foods cafe vegan burgerJess says: Breakfasts at Mekhara in Nong Khiew, Laos
Obviously located in our favorite little Lao town, the Mekhara Restaurant quickly became our go-to breakfast spot. We could not get enough of all the sticky rice dishes they served, especially the Lao warm bread – this is a sticky rice patty, dipped in egg and cooked on the stove which you then break up and dip into this homemade chili paste. Knowing I was going to order this breakfast literally got me out of bed in the morning!

Dani says: The vegetarian restaurants in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Like we said – one of the things we love about Chiang Mai is the availability of good food, and the many vegetarian restaurants in town. There must be at least 20 vegetarian restaurants in a city of 150,000 and countless other vegetarian-friendly spots to eat at as well. We appreciate it so much that we are able to order a Thai curry and be 100% certain that it does not contain any meat, fish, or fish sauce. The other great thing about veggie restaurants is that we are able to try out the many traditional dishes of Thailand – in meat free form. For example, one of our favorites is the Khow Suey noodle soup – a traditional northern Thai dish that always comes with meat chunks and a beef/chicken broth. We still have a bit of time left here in Chiang Mai and will be testing out as many places as we can – but so far our favorite are the Dada Kafe, Beetroot Stories, Pun Pun and AUM.

veggie heaven chiang maiTravel recommendations

Jess says: Get out of ‘The Loop’ in Chicago
If you visit Chicago, the most obvious place to start is The Loop. This area of the city is the cultural, architectural and financial heart of the city. The Willis Tower is located here, as is the Chicago Board of Trade. You’ll find the Chicago Theatre, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Lyric Opera house, the Goodman Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet and the stretch of lakefront in The Loop includes the Grant Park area – host of the glorious Taste Of Chicago fest each year as well as Millennium Park, which features Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture, known to Chicagoans as The Bean.

But get on a bike (Chicago is one of America’s best cycling cities) and get out and visit cities north of The Loop – ride along the lake shore and visit Lincoln Park Zoo (it’s free) and the Lincoln Park neighborhood, ride up to Lakeview, on to Boystown. Or jump on the El to get out to the very German area of Lincoln Square and Swedish Andersonville , or head west to Bucktown to spot the hipsters in action. Going even further – visit Evanston, just north of Chicago and right on Lake Michigan. The beaches here are less crowded and you’ll see some of the finest homes in the Midwest if you continue driving north from there.

chicago neighborhoodsDani says – Bring lots of Dramamine to Laos
Somebody had mentioned to us that the bus rides in Laos weren’t very pleasant before we went – but we had no idea just how bad the roads really were until we experienced them ourselves. The country is so mountainous, and there are no major bridges. Instead, narrow roads wind up and down the sides of mountains, sometimes without offering the opportunity to drive straight for more than one minute. The rides are long, the buses are not great, and a 400km (250 mile) trip can easily take 12 hours. Even locals spend much of their time with their face in a sick bag – so make sure to pack a lot of Dramamine for your journey. You might also want an iPod to block out the sounds of nausea around you and some toilet paper for the random, on-the-side-of-the-street rest stops throughout your trip.

Worst travel moments

Jess says: Bangkok flight cancellation through Orbitz
We found a great deal from Denver to Bangkok through Orbitz and booked it months in advance of our trip. The amount of money we saved made us giddy and proud. And then just a few weeks before our departure date, Orbitz emails that they have rescheduled our flight itinerary as Air China had re-jigged a few flight schedules. Looking at the new itinerary they issued, however, we realize we would not have enough time to change planes in Beijing. The only option given by Orbitz was for them to issue a refund. But we could never have found a fair price so near to our departure date. Back and forth between Air China and Orbitz, neither will take responsibility. I spend countless hours on the phone with both and in the end, we managed to re-book for two days later at no additional charge. We buy tickets according to price, first and foremost, and for that we are very pro third-party deal sites. However, in this case it would have been much easier had we booked directly with the airline.

air china flight to bangkok
Flying AirChina - hopefully never again.

Dani says: Almost getting robbed on the night bus from Bangkok to Krabi
After a scam in Bangkok that involved a good chunk of change and tickets for a bus down to Krabi that never showed up, another bus drove by on its way to Krabi and we were lucky enough to be able to hop on for the overnight ride. At first we were incredibly happy about this, until the entire bus was woken up in the middle of night. A fellow passenger had caught one of the bus employees trying to steal his bag. Chatter and yelling went back and forth, of course the bus helpers denied everything, but no one could sleep at all after that – instead clutching our bags and waiting for the 12 hour ride to finish. Lesson learned: do not book a cheap bus at one of the travel agencies around Khao San Road. This kind of robbery is apparently very common on these foreigner buses, with people waking up after night rides with valuables missing. Book a public bus (they’re much nicer anyway) and travel with the Thais.

Travel mishaps

Jess says: Not reading up on scams in Bangkok before arrival
Anyone who has traveled with us knows that we are usually very organized and well-informed with our travel. We research destinations, know local taxi and bus prices, book rooms and transport in advance where we should and leave it to chance where it’s been advised. After all that time in the States with a car, we got soft, a bit lazy, and we didn’t prepare like we usually do. Once we got to Bangkok, we were jet-lagged and our bodies were stunned by the humid heat. Plus, on our first morning in Bangkok we were so excited that we ran right out and got exploring, instead of reading up on anything. Had we only read the chapter on ‘Dangers & Annoyances’ in our Lonely Planet or the Bangkok article in Wikitravel.org, we would have known that all of those people who approached us were part of a chain of events that allowed this scam to happen. But we didn’t and so we were sitting ducks. We promise to reveal the whole story soon…we’re still working through the embarrassment of going through our worst travel mishap to date 18 months in to our travels…

bangkok tuktuks
The Tuk-Tuk Scam: Only one of many scams in Bangkok

If you enjoyed this, check out more of our Tops and Flops:

Our Tops and Flops of 500 days of travel: Portugal, Canada, USA
Our Tops and Flops of 400 days of travel: Panama, Germany, Italy, Spain
Our Tops and Flops of 300 days of travel: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica
Our Tops and Flops of 200 days of travel: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador
Our Tops and Flops of 100 days of travel: Las Vegas, California, Arizona, Mexico

 

Tags : tops &travel milestoneTravel MishapsTravel Reflections

23 Comments

  1. Eek, Phuket. I avoided it for the same reasons you hated it. Phi Phi was great for a party but such overpriced, overextended, subpar crap otherwise. If you do go back to the Andaman Coast, I recommend visiting Railay. Very much worth it. As for other beaches, I really did love Lonely Beach on Koh Chang. Cheap, too. And I LOVED Sihanoukville as a cheap beach hangout — I could see you two getting stuck there for awhile, too!
    Adventurous Kate recently posted..11 Best Photos of 2011

    1. Kate, thanks for the recommendation (Railay) For some reason we overlooked it while we were down there, but every time I see a picture of Railay I want to go 🙂 We’re definitely hit up the beaches in Cambodia and the little islands near Sihanoukville.

  2. I love your list! I totally agree with you about the vegetarian Thai food – yummy! It makes my mouth water just thinking about it. I spent last summer traveling through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. I agree with your disappointment in the Andaman islands. I spent time in Koh Lanta and didn’t much care for it. I was surprised, however, that I loved Koh Phangan. I was hesitant to visit because of the full moon parties, but I went on the recommendation of a friend, during non-party time. I had a great time, and I didn’t notice the “trash washing up on the beach” problem that I noticed on so many other Thai islands. Be warned, Ko Chang in the gulf was super disappointing to me. The beaches have a lot of trash on them, and the island in general is not that clean. However, I did meet some really sweet locals. I think I’m spoiled also in that I’ve visited a lot of pristine islands elsewhere, so I was rather disappointed a lot of the Thai islands. There were other parts of Thailand that I absolutely loved though, so that made up for it (like Lop Buri for the monkeys and Kanchanaburi for the waterfalls)!
    Heather Rae recently posted..In Search of: Awesome Travels in 2012

    1. Hi Heather, thanks for the warning about Koh Chang – it was one of the places that has been recommended to us repeatedly, but maybe we should look out for another island instead – or see if we find one that we like in Malaysia instead 🙂 I wouldn’t have thought that Koh Phangan was actually worth a visit, but now we might have to check it out! We heard good things about Koh Tao which is right there, too.

  3. The website http://www.bangkokscams.com is also a good resource. Sorry to hear you guys had such a horrible experience. KSR was my least favorite place in BKK and i avoided it as much as possible. I stayed at LubD on Siloam and Udee Bangkok. Both great hostels.

    If you are looking for a totally out of the way beach experience, I stayed in Ban Kruit for five days. The LP has instructions on how to get there. I recommend the third class train for 60 baht if you can swing it. I took the bus and it was confusing to figure out how to get there. The HI hostel is a total rip off and tried to scam me. I wrote about it on my blog. However, I think there are other options of places to stay. It is a totally chill town, not a lot of farang except the occasional ex-pat and Thai wife/gf. I am not a huge beach person, but they had really nice beaches in the area and I did enjoy just hanging out for a few days and getting away from the chaos of BKK.

    I loved Chiang Mai…but after witnessing the sex trade all over the place in Thailand, I don’t know that I would go back to Thailand again. I still want to explore Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia in SE Asia….
    RenegadePilgrim recently posted..Hostel Review: Las Musas Residence, Madrid, Spain

    1. That’s funny – we actually discovered BangkokScams.com aaaaafter our scam instead of before – it really is a great resource! We will definitely 100% be avoiding KSR next time we are in the city – thanks so much for the hostel tips – we’ll let you know if we stay there when we are back in mid-january. Thanks for the tips also on the Ban Kruit, will have to check that out! I know what you mean about the shady tourism factors here, but we just love Chiang Mai and don’t see it here so much (not like Phuket, yuck). There is so much that we want to see in Vietnam and Cambodia and we loved Laos! Can’t wait to hear what you think about the rest of South East Asia!

    1. We love looking back every 100 days and seeing just how much you can accomplish in less than 1/3 of a year! Get in touch if you need any Chicago ideas – you should definitely visit (but let it warm up first it’s cold now!)

  4. Denver and Chicago are in my top cities too 🙂 I am from St. Louis so I have spent a lot of long weekends and fall breaks in Chicago, it really is an amazing city.

    I think you guys made out pretty well in your past 100 days!

    1. Hey thanks Rease! Didn’t know you are from St Louis – we almost passed through there this year, but just might next summer – we’ll let you know. Glad you like Chicago, it’s really near and dear to my heart!

    1. Hi Abby! Yes – an American road trip and then Asian travel has been an intense contrast! We’re finally over that stupid scam – but only just! 😉

    1. Hey Sam – thanks so much for stopping by! You’re right about the scams – but we’re going to be much more aware and ready when we hit Bangkok again in January!

  5. Hola!

    I’m reading your blog regularly from Leon, Nicaragua, and each and every time I eat the huevos rancheros at Desayunazo (which is v often!), I think of you two. It’s still as good. We are thinking of heading to Thailand next year actually, and had heard Chaing Mai was the best place to be…how long are you two planning on staying?

    And…don’t talk to me about scams! After two years in Latin America we got very lazy on a recent trip to Managua and let a ‘friend’ of the taxi driver ‘carry’ our bags once we got to the bus station. What??? Yes, we ended up chasing him through a very busy market, hoping desperately that we were faster than him. We were! But of course it cost us a few cordobas to get our bags back!

    Anyway, hope you had a fantastic Christmas and wish you all the best in the new year.

    Keep writing, and I’ll keep reading.

    🙂

    1. Hola Emma! Thanks for your awesome comment! We are SO jealous that you get to eat at Desayunazo so often. We were just talking about how much we love Leon last night, in fact. Chiang Mai is only til mid-January 2012, but we know we’ll be back. You should definitely come here – Chiang Mai is the best place to live and work – it’s easy, cheap, there are loads of diginomads here and also, and I hate to say it, but the food is really amazing enough to replace gallo pinto 🙂 Crazy story about your bags, btw, that never happened to us but really anything can happen in Managua, can’t it! We’ll keep writing, so hope you keep enjoying and reading! Happy New Year!

    1. Oh no! It seems a lot more people have been scammed in Bangkok than we had thought. What really irked us is that we played such an active role in the scam, doing things that we never ever do, like first time travelers. Grrr…

  6. Catching up on your latest posts. You have done so many incredible things!!!

    This post made read up on couple of Scams for our Time in Sri Lanka. Ugggh… looking forward to these travel experiences. But on the other hand the craziest scam was here in Sicily in a small town. For 2 crappy plates of pasta and a bottle of wine we got charge 48 Euros! I totally snapped out on that guy!!!! ARGH and I’m so angry mostly at us for not asking how much that bottle of wine was.

    So much to learn!!!
    For 91 Days Travel Blog recently posted..Palermo’s Chinese Palace

    1. Hey guys, thanks! It’s always amazing to us what we manage to see and do in 100 days! Glad you read up on scams – seriously had we just read about them in BKK, we would have recognized and then not even engaged in conversations with these %*&#@& people! That is awful about your crappy wine scam in Sicily, especially since table wine can be so cheap and delicious, right! Grrrrr! SO much to learn, true – but this is only because we are constantly in new, exciting situations 🙂 Life is good!

  7. Okay… finally catching up on all my blogs so get ready for a deluge of comments!

    1. I’m sorry to hear you were victims of a scam, but I also can’t wait to hear about it. I’m kind of scam obsessed.
    2. My boyfriend once booked with Air China and ended up having his flight rescheduled 3x before departure date. Nightmare, but you can’t beat the price.
    3. COME TO KOH TAO!
    Alex recently posted..Diving in Vietnam

    1. Hi Alex – that’s funny that you’re scam obsessed. We became really scam obsessed afterwards – read tons of blogs which are specifically about scams, etc. And you are so right about Air China, and it’s the same with Ryanair in Europe. Every time we fly with Ryanair we say never again. And then book our next flight with them every time. We are seriously considering Koh Tao – we need a beach where we can work, ideally…

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