Put Some South in Your Mouth

Put Some South in Your Mouth

As you know I’m always on the hunt for healthy recipes and great, local restaurants to eat at. You also know that I believe in a balanced life, which means when I’m traveling in Asheville, North Carolina, I’m going to find the best southern breakfast place in town, without thinking about extra calories consumed.

And putting some “South in my mouth” is just what I did at the well known breakfast,  lunch “and everything in between” joint, Biscuit Heads.

If a line out the door doesn’t have you convinced of the awesome-ness of this southern food, the golden brown buttery biscuits will.

Don’t be discouraged by seeing this line. Everything moves pretty fast, and tables become available as soon as you get your number.

I went for the entree of the day: Biscuit with cheddar, scrambled eggs (I opted for over-medium), maple jalapeno bacon, smothered in a traditional black pepper gravy and topped with crispy onions.

My fiance opted for biscuits with the gravy of the day: roasted tomato, smoked goat cheese and basil with a fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Needless to say, the meal was devoured in a time that was almost embarrassing, but helped with the flow of getting that long line seated quicker (which seems to be an unspoken knowingness of eating your meal and being conscious of the people in line, which I thought was pretty neat.)

Biscuit Heads has two locations in Asheville, and provides an extensive menu of homemade gravies and biscuits, all while supporting local farms and vendors using the “farm to table” restaurant concept.

I highly recommend checking out one of their locations, 733 Haywood Road or 417 Biltmore Avenue, for some serious home-cookin goodness. 

Leave your watch and worries in Pai

Leave your watch and worries in Pai

“Welcome to Pai..If you plan on staying a couple of days, rearrange your trip to stay a few weeks.”

If one person could describe the essence of the town Pai, the dreadhead, barefoot lady we met upon arrival would be it. A former New Yorker who traded in her high heels for muddy feet greeted us upon arrival and gave us some tips.

1.) Explore the beauty of the mountains
2.) Stay longer

We heard the rumors before, and I can see how people easily get sucked in and wind up spending the rest of their holiday in Pai; a sleepy, bohemian mountain town where everyone is on “Pai-time” and its better to leave your watch, and worries, at home.

We arrived after a 3.5 hour winding, nauseating bus ride north through the mountains from Chiang Mai. Our group of three recruited five other travelers from London, Canada and Colorado after spending a week together volunteering with elephants at Elephant Nature Park.

Our first night we wandered down the dirt road that our hostel was on after seeing a sign for Roots Bar, a reggae bar that upon first appearance looked like a broke down shack. But we followed the music that was coming from behind the shack and it ended up being the coolest place we found in Pai. It had an amazing ambiance with a bonfire, firespinners, amazing reggae music and free chicken drumsticks for all customers.

The rest of our time in Pai we rented motorbikes and spent our time getting lost in the mountains in search of waterfalls, hot springs and the white Buddha that sits atop high in the mountains.

At night the town came alive with the street market and had some of the best street food I have ate in Thailand so far. Music flowed endlessly from bar to bar and we wound up at some awesome hole-in-the-walls with live jam music.

Our three days in Pai was not enough, and I would have loved to stay longer, but the rest of Thailand awaits me. If I ever come to Thialand again, I will come and spend the whole time in Pai and getting to know more of this beautiful mountain town.

Now, off to Bangkok as we sadly say goodbye to Pai and the friends that we made and journeyed with.

Volunteering with Elephants

Volunteering with Elephants

There are only about 4000 Asian elephants left in Thailand, and about half of them roam free in the jungle, and the others are domesticated. Although these animals have been worshiped for centuries here, there are no laws to protect them.They have no higher status than livestock and are seen as a money maker. Elephants, especially babies, are captured from their jungle home and taken from their mothers to be used as street beggars, used in performances or trekking companies for tourists. Some are overworked to death and some develop stress disorders for life from being tortured. The park I’m volunteering at for a week is a safe haven for rescued elephants. It does not support elephant riding, as elephants have to go through a “breaking period” where they are stabbed and tortured into being submissive for humans on their back. Elephants are meant to roam free, not be a mode of transportation for our enjoyment.If you come to Asia please do your research on what kind of elephant parks you visit, because not all are the same, and some still allow this animal torture just so tourists can ride them!

I have been at Elephant Nature Park for the past week volunteering and it’s definitely one of the coolest things I have done in my life. I can’t think of a better place to start my mornings staring into the landscape to watch the elephants bathe or play together. Being so close to these amazing animals and becoming educated on their plight makes me want to take action to help them ; to be a voice for their future. It’s sad to think of a world where our children’s children could possibly only know an elephant from a textbook or a zoo. They deserve to be treated equally and roam free.They have a right on this planet just as much as we do. Hopefully protection laws for the Asian elephant will come to Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia soon.

There are about 35 other weekly volunteers from all around the world. Our daily activities include planting pumpkin seeds, cleaning elephant poo (not as bad as you think it would be) cleaning up the park, bathing and feeding the elephants, making mud pits, unloading fruit trucks and preparing elephant food. Today we got to visit a local school to practice english and play with the kids. That was definitely one of the highlights so far.

There’s a lot more free time than I expected, and I usually hang out on the skywalk watching the elephants or drinking beers at night with the other volunteers. We’ve also been playing soccer in the evenings against the locals and you can even go tubing down the river, but I had to sit that one out with the recent Sak Yant tattoo I had done.

Tonight is our farewell dinner and last night with the elephants. We have met some pretty cool people here while volunteering, some that our going to join us on our next stop, PAI!

Loy Krathong and Search for Sak Yant

Loy Krathong and Search for Sak Yant

Loy Krathong

We arrived in Chiang Mai for Loy Krathong, which falls on the full moon of the 12th lunar month. It’s a festival to pay respect to the water spirits and release krathongs, “floating crowns” , into the river. They are made from a slice of banana tree trunk or spider lily plants . We bought krathongs made by locals for 20 baht (less than $1) to light and release, along with a wish or prayer. The sky lanterns which are also released into the sky looked like stars, as there were hundreds floating high into the sky. It was a pretty amazing festival to be a part of.

The Search for Sak Yank

Sak Yant is a form of tattooing practiced in Southeast Asian countries and is believed to be magic,have mystical powers, protection and good luck.

While on a search for Sak Yant tattoos in Thailand, we were sent to a temple right outside the Old City to find a monk who does Sak Yant tattoos. While talking with workers at the temple (trying to at least) we were handed a white piece of paper with words in Thai to show a taxi driver to take us to another temple, as the monk was no longer at the one we were at.

Twenty five minutes later the tuk tuk driver (small go cart looking motorbike that is a mode of transport in lieu of a taxi) drops us off in rural countryside, and we are the only foreigners walking the temple grounds. We show the paper to a groundskeeper who takes us to the monk.

We choose which tattoos we want and the tattoo ritual begins in a room filled with multi-size Buddha statues and paintings. The monk is chanting and praying the entire time, and when finished puts gold flakes surrounding the tattoos and blesses us with water. He sends us off with one last prayer by placing a stone helmet on top of our heads and tying a red bracelet around our wrists, to signify protection and luck.

The monk then brings us down to the master monk, with lack of better words because I’m not sure what to call him. He looks like a modest king sitting in a royal looking chair and we kneel before him individually. He blesses us and “give us extra magic” (as the monks describe) and continuously dips his palm frawn in water and we leave drenched from his blessings along with another red bracelet that he gives us.

What a special, spiritual experience.

To top it off, we got a ride back into town with the monk who did our tattoos as we were too far in the countryside to get a taxi back.

First stop, Chiang Mai

First stop, Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai has already left a footprint on my heart of a place I have fallen in love with and we have only been here three days. They don’t call it the gem of the North for nothing. One of my best friends Katie says that it’s the people that make the place, and I’d have to agree with her on this one.

We decided to couch surf our first three days in Thailand and I couldn’t imagine a better way to begin a trip in a new county. Our hosts were Ralph and Cat, a retired no-filter-kind-of-guy from the UK and his quiet and super nice Thai wife. We arrived by taxi to their house in Doi Saket which lies about 25 minutes outside of the main city in Chiang Mai. They live in a beautiful house with a lush garden surround, maintained by Cat, who upon our arrival was planting a new tree in her backyard that she found on her morning walk.

A river with pink water lotus’ is a stones throw from their back patio terrace where breakfast is ate in the mornings surrounded by rice fields. Not another house is in sites view.When we walked in and saw our surroundings we wonder how we got so lucky.

Our hosts were incredibly accommodating during our first three days and it was pretty much an instant feeling of friendship. Upon our arrival Cat had breakfast made for us, Ralph lent us rides into town, took me to the hospital (long story..first night spent in Thai hospital..ugh) and on our last night staying with them they took us to his favorite bar in Chiang Mai, Boy Blues Bar. It sits in the night bazaar area and is second level with an open rooftop. Ralph seems to be a local celebrity at the place as he was called up to sing a few songs with the local band once we arrived. Two words: Couchsurfing Rules!

We took Ralph’s motorcycles on our first day in town to see some of the mountainous beauty of Chiang Mai. We stopped at a botanical garden and snake farm to see a Cobra show put on by local Thai boys.

As we are riding in the mountains we saw two elephants cross the roadway with their mahouts, which are caretakers. They were riding bareback on the elephants, and at this point in time it really set in for me that I was in Asia. Elephants crossing the road? WHAT? IN WHAT WORLD? Def a world I want to live in.

Thai Cooking School

We took a full day cooking course at a local Thai’s place outside of the city, called Siam Rice Thai Cookerywhich began with a fresh market tour learning about local fruits and veggies. This is definitely a must for anyone who has an extra day to spare and want to learn about local food and flavor. There’s over 30 different cooking schools in Chiang Mai so it was hard to select which one we wanted to go to. We ended up choosing Siam Rice Thai Cookery School which is at the owners house outside of town.The cooking school was an amazing experience, but I really think our instructor (Pot,the owner) made the whole day worthwhile. He was personable, hilarious, and shared beers with us after class sharing his life stories.

We learned to cook 7 dishes and the ones I selected were:
Spicy soup with sweet basil
Pad Thai
Papaya Salad
Chicken with Cashew Nut
Panang Curry
Sticky rice with young coconut.

Friends, get ready for a feast when I get home!

The beginnings

The beginnings

“Here I am Grandma!” I yelled bouncing out of the airplane, wearing a stuffed Beauty and the Beast backpack and ear-to-ear smile, proud of taking my first solo airplane ride. If only I had started this travel blog when I was four…Oh the possibilities!

A few years have passed since I first thought about beginning a travel blog, and I kick myself in the ass when I think about it now for not just doing it.  “Oh, I’ve been so many places already…It’s too late in the game to start now…”

Since that last thought, five countries have passed me by (Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Mexico and Costa Rica.)  And who knows how many blog entries.  The upside about my restless soul is that there are many more countries to come and an opportunity to start now!

“IF WE WERE MEANT TO STAY IN ONE PLACE, WE’D HAVE ROOTS INSTEAD OF FEET”

So NOW is the time, and I’m looking forward to where this road takes me. Follow me and stay tuned on my journeys.