Chiang Mai’s Yi Peng Lantern Festival

Yi Peng 2014 in Chiang Mai

Yi Peng 2014 in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai’s annual lantern festival is a truly magical event. I figured it would be a pretty “neat” experience based on photos and videos I had seen online, but “neat” definitely didn’t do it justice. Attending Yi Peng changes you in some imperceptible way, sort of like seeing the ocean for the first time. It marks you somehow emotionally, or in my case, it left a small mark on me physically (see my note about safety below). We were fortunate enough to be in Chiang Mai for this year’s Yi Peng Lantern Festival, and managed to make our way up to Mae Jo to experience the magic.

What is Yi Peng?

Yi Peng (or Yee Peng) is a Lanna (Northern Thai) Festival of Lights that is usually held each year in November. Yi Peng literally translates to 2nd Month, and is always held on or near the full moon of the 2nd month of the Lanna Calendar. During Yi Peng, Sky Lanterns called Khom Loi are released to pay respect to Buddha. Launching one of these lanterns is believed to send a person’s bad luck and misfortunes away into the air, especially if it disappears from your view before the fire goes out.

We Released Two Lanterns

We Released Two Lanterns

The Yi Peng festival is held each year on the grounds of the Lanna Dhutanka Temple behind Mae Jo University. Usually, it’s about a 25-minute drive North of Chiang Mai, but the drive can take nearly three times as long before and after the festivities. People start to crowd into the grounds as early as 2pm to snag a primo spot, but the ceremony preceding the lantern release actually doesn’t begin until 6:30pm. Lantern release starts at about 8pm, and is followed by fireworks!

Check out these crowds!

Check out these crowds!

It’s a good idea to arrive early (by 3 or 4pm) to stake out a spot, because it gets ridiculously crowded.

When is Yi Peng?

Two separate Yi Peng lantern release events are held each year. The first event has no admission charge, and is primarily attended by local Thai people, expats, and tourists-in-the-know. Because it’s free, this first event is typically VERY crowded. A second event is held a week or two later specifically for tourists, and a limited number of tickets are sold for about $100 each to keep crowding down. The ticket price includes transportation to and from Mae Jo, dinner, a lantern, and even a seating mat and scarf. Plus you won’t have to contort yourself into strange positions in order to fit into the small space you staked out on the temple grounds.

There is a Ceremony happening up there somewhere!

There is a Ceremony happening up there somewhere!

The date of the free lantern release is typically kept under wraps until last minute in an attempt to limit the number of tourists who flock to Chiang Mai to attend. I can understand why they want to limit the number of tourists at the event, because I saw some people being pretty darn disrespectful while we were there (see my note about respect below).

For 2014, the free event was held on Saturday, October 24. The paid event is scheduled for Saturday, November 8 (get tickets here).

The Best Way to Experience Yi Peng

Kevin Holding our Lantern

Kevin Holding our Lantern

We opted to attend the free event because it’s so darn hard for us to stomach paying $100/ticket. That’s like 100 dinners for us here. CAN. NOT. HANDLE. Plus, I like to experience local traditions with the locals. I think it just means more to experience this Buddhist festival with people who actually know about the religious customs and traditions.

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng 2014

We’ve learned an important lesson here in Thailand, based loosely on the 80/20 Pareto Principle. In Thailand, you can usually spend just an extra 20% and increase your comfort level by 80%. We decided to splurge on a 500 Baht/person (about $15) round-trip air conditioned van ride to Mae Jo. And let me tell you, it was a HOT day, there was a TON of traffic, and we were thrilled to have aircon. We could have saved $3 each by booking round-trip in a Songathew. (A Songathew is a pickup truck taxi with bench seating in the covered truck bed.  Definitely no aircon, but plenty of dust and exhaust.) We could have saved $10 each by just flagging down a Songathew and haggling over price, but that would involve walking a few miles in the heat and haggling, two things guaranteed to turn me into a monster. We could have saved even more money by borrowing our landlord’s scooter, but I’m fairly certain I’d be making this post from a hospital bed right now if we had done that! Do yourself a favor, just pay up front for the round trip air-conditioned transport. You can thank me later.

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng 2014

Booking round-trip transport for Yi Peng is easy – any hotel reception desk or tour company can do it for you. We walked into a hotel near our condo the day before the festival and asked them to book it for us. The real trick is finding out the date – we would’ve missed it were it not for the ridiculous number of Chiang Mai Facebook groups I’ve joined.

A Note about Safety

Lantern Lighting 101

Lantern Lighting 101

If you’re skiddish about being in huge crowds, this event is not for you. If you’re afraid of fire, this event is definitely not for you. Each year for Yi Peng, people pack into the temple grounds nearly shoulder to shoulder. At some point after everyone crams in, hundreds of torches all throughout the crowd are set on fire, and people start to light their lanterns on these torches and send them floating, on fire, into the air. Some lanterns catch on fire, like the one in this video, which landed right next to us:

There are a very limited number of small exit points, and no one announces an emergency evacuation plan. In fact, the exits are so insufficiently sized that it took us about an hour just to get out of the temple grounds after the ceremony ended. To top things off, I even got burned at Yi Peng this year! Some people get torch wax on their lanterns before releasing them, so hot fiery flaming wax rains down as the lantern floats off into the air. I’m sporting a nice red burn on my arm this week, so that’s fun. At least I was consoled by fireworks:

So let’s recap: huge crowds + open flames everywhere + floating fiery lanterns + hot flaming wax raining down from the sky = SIGN ME UP, AMIRITE?! Crowd control and liability are treated a bit more loosely here. It’s good and bad; you just have to be sure you’re watching out for yourself. In spite of the crowds and the fiery wax falling from the sky, Yi Peng is still definitely worth attending. It’s truly magical – I just might recommend wearing a hat and long sleeves, or bringing a small fire extinguisher.

A Note about Respect

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng is a wonderful, spectacular experience, one I’ll never forget. Unfortunately, a lot of the tourists who attend either don’t know or don’t care that it’s a religious ceremony. It’s hard to enjoy the experience when the guy next to you is playing games on his iPad during the ceremony, with the sound on. It’s pretty annoying when everyone is standing up to take photos in spite of the announcer’s repeated attempts to get people to sit down.

Yi Peng 2014

Yi Peng 2014

We even saw a couple girls whose clothes were so skimpy that I was afraid I would see some boobs if they so much as sneezed or coughed. I can’t wait for the day when I’m an old, spunky grandma that can walk up to girls wearing shorty shorts and say, “You know I can see your ass cheeks, right?” Luckily, there are students stationed at the entrances who will turn you away if you’re not dressed appropriately. Shoulders and knees should be covered, but you get bonus points if you go traditional Lanna style and wear all white.

We Want to Hear From You!

Have you had any experiences on your travels that are must-dos? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble! (Rails Rumble)

Here’s something I never thought I’d ever say: This weekend, Kevin and I participated in a 48-hour Programming Competition called the Rails Rumble. It’s true, I’ve crossed over to the dark side, and I Love It. I’m not sure how I feel about admitting all of this, but hey, #YOLO, right?

Note: This post is 1 day early because we need you to vote for us!  (See “Help Us Win!” below.)

What is the Rails Rumble?

The Rails Rumble is a 48-hour programming competition in which hundreds of teams (a team is one to four people) from all over the world compete to build a web application with Ruby on Rails. After the competition ends, everyone who participated gets to rank their favorite applications.

The winners are treated to some pretty awesome prizes! They receive a bunch of goodies, but my favorite from the list is the “Rails Rumble Championship Belt” for the first-place team, which I picture to be something like this:

Here's Hoping the Rails Rumble Championship Belt is this blingy.

Here’s Hoping the Rails Rumble Championship Belt is this blingy.

And let me tell you, if we win, we’ll make sure to take a similarly awesome photo, complete with confetti, and share it on the blog. Kevin could even grow a beard. It will be awesome. In all seriousness, though, the other awesome prizes include generous gift certificates to Amazon and memberships to various online software tools. So winning is a really big deal.

What Did We Build?

Here's a peek at Pomatillo

Here’s a peek at our Pomatillo landing page

You might have read my post about how much the Pomodoro Technique has increased our productivity. We’re still hooked on Pomodoros, but we’ve been hankering for a tool to help us track our work a little more easily. Enter Pomatillo, the simple online tool we built this weekend to let users easily track their work segments.

Hop on over and visit Pomatillo to take a peek at what we came up with – it’s easy to create a guest account just so you can log in and poke around. We kept things simple since we only had a weekend to throw things together, but we’re pretty happy with what we ended up with, and we’ve been using it to track our work for the past few days! In fact, I’m using it right now to track my time working on this Blog Post!

Help Us Win!

One of the prizes goes to the “Public Favorite” web app! We’d love to get your votes! Unfortunately, voting for our entry is much more complicated than it needs to be. I feel like I’m typing out brain surgery instructions. Bear with me. Here’s how you can vote:

  1. Visit the Rails Rumble page for Pomatillo
  2. Sign in with a Twitter or Heroku Account. I know I know, you have to have a Twitter Account or sign up for one, which is sort of a bummer. (Mom and Dad, I KNOW you’ve been waiting your whole lives to sign up for Twitter – this is your chance!)
  3. After signing into Twitter, you should be redirected back to the Rails Rumble page for Pomatillo, where you can click the “Favorite” button to favorite our app!
  4. The last thing is to finalize your picks – visit your Rails Rumble Favorites page to rank all the apps you favorited and finalize your votes.

Voting ends on October 26 at 7PM Central Time (click here to convert to your local time zone)!  If you have the patience to get through Step 4, please leave us a comment or send me a note! If I had the power, I’d make sure everyone who voted for us got their very own Championship Belt as a thank you. We could all use something like that in our closet to spice up our winter wardrobes, AMIRITE?! However, I’m not sure I will ever figure out how to mail packages from Thailand, so hopefully a thank you email will suffice.

What Did We Think of the Rails Rumble?

We had a lot of fun competing, and we didn’t kill each other. Success! It was kind of like a marriage team-building activity. Admittedly, we were probably a bit more relaxed about things than other teams may have been. I’m certain that a lot of people kept a much more rigorous schedule than we did, probably pulling at least one all-nighter. If you know me at all, though, you know that sleep is waaaaaaaaay up there on my list of priorities. Instead of stocking up on caffeinated beverages and junk food, we bought a bunch of fruit:

Papaya, Persimmon, Mango, Bananas, and Dragon Fruit.  YUM.

Papaya, Persimmon, Mango, Bananas, and Dragon Fruit. YUM.

We also took what I’d describe as pretty relaxed approach to our work hours for the Rumble… We kicked the competition off by waking up without an alarm, having a delicious breakfast, walking to the local fresh market to buy fresh fruits and vegetables to get us through the next few days, and got down to work at about 11am. We also took a couple Pad See Iew breaks:

Kevin and our beloved Pad See Iew.  Best in Chiang Mai, for just $1.

Kevin and our beloved Pad See Iew. Best in Chiang Mai, for just south of $1.

The best thing about competing from Chiang Mai is that you can celebrate and unwind from the competition without breaking your budget! We took all of Monday off, treated ourselves to 90-minute Thai Massages at Miracle Spa, did a little day drinking while we watched the Seahawks lose to the Rams (so so sad, thank goodness for beer), and then capped the day off with dinner and some Kanom Krok.

A Special Video

Here’s a fun tip for anyone out there who uses Git for software source control.  You can set up a Git post commit hook to take a snapshot of you every time you commit.  Here’s how.  For those of you out there who are pretty sure I just wrote that last sentence in Thai (this Time last year I would’ve been in that camp FOR SURE), that just means that my computer takes a picture of me every time I check-in a software change.  I threw the photos into iMovie with some music, and this is what came out:

I hope you are laughing at our embarrassment…

We Want to Hear From You!

If you vote for us, please let us know so we can thank you! Also, if you visit Pomatillo, please leave us a comment here to let us know what you think.

A Long Layover in Seoul

The Newest South Korean King & Queen

The Newest South Korean King & Queen

There’s nothing I dread more than a really long layover.  Everyone, at some point in their lives, has had the scour-the-airport-for-an-electrical-outlet try-to-sleep-on-the-floor wish-you-could-get-some-fresh-air experience of being in an airport for too long.  So when we were faced with a 12-hour layover in Seoul at the Incheon International Airport, I was a little bit worried.  Fortunately for us, Seoul’s Airport is ridiculously awesome!  Read on for the reasons why it’s so wonderful.

Free City Tours

ICN Airport offers seven different types of tours for passengers with long layovers, varying from 1 to 5 hours in length.  SEVEN TYPES OF TOURS!  They have something for everyone – everything from a Seoul Shopping Tour to an Incheon Temple Tour.  Heck, they will even help you plan your own self-guided tour in the city.  The kicker?  It’s 100% free of charge!  Thank you, South Korean taxpayers, for making my stay so awesome.

Free Transit Tours!  YES!

Free Transit Tours! YES!

We chose to go on the Incheon City Tour – we originally wanted to do the Seoul City Tour, but the immigration lines were SO DARN LONG that we missed it.  Lucky for us, the Incheon City Tour is considered “second best” according to the gal at the tour desk, and we think she was right.

Our guide, Mr. Bae, was great.  His first name was “Sang Beom”, which he told us is essentially the Korean equivalent of “Bob”.  Here he is telling us to hurry up and get on the bus:

Our ICN Transit Tour Bus

Our ICN Transit Tour Bus

First stop was Wolmi Park, which has a nice cultural center we visited.  That’s where we took the photo at the top of this post with us dressed up like Korean Royalty.  We also snapped this gem:

Hopefully we can blame this one on jet lag?

Hopefully we can blame this one on jet lag?

We were SO EXCITED to see evergreen bushes and trees in South Korea:

OMG EVERGREENS!

OMG EVERGREENS!

Wolmi Park is pretty fabulous:

At Wolmi Park, they have great photo opportunities

At Wolmi Park, they have great photo opportunities.

They have beautiful ponds and pagodas and bonsai trees.

They have beautiful ponds and pagodas and bonsai trees.

Wolmi Park has butterfly-shaped flower exhibits.

Wolmi Park has butterfly-shaped flower exhibits.

They also have dinosaur-shaped flower exhibits.

They also have dinosaur-shaped flower exhibits.

One thing I thought was really amazing was the pumpkin and squash vines hanging from a trellis.

One thing I thought was really amazing was the pumpkin and squash vines hanging from a trellis.

There were beautiful cosmos fields.

There were beautiful cosmos fields.

At Wolmi park, Mr. Bae even busted out his hacky sack skills!

At Wolmi park, Mr. Bae even busted out his hacky sack skills!

There were also replicas of traditional Korean houses.

There were also replicas of traditional Korean houses.

Next stop on our Incheon City Tour was Sinpo Market!  Anything involving street food always gets us hyped up, so we were super excited.  We read up a little bit using the free wifi at Incheon Airport before leaving, and knew we had to try the spicy fried chicken Sinpo market is known for.

Sinpo Market in Incheon, South Korea

Sinpo Market in Incheon, South Korea

Pro tip: take some South Koreon Won out of an ATM before leaving the airport!  Otherwise you’ll just have to look at all the good food and won’t get to taste any of it. So sad.

Spicy Fried Chicken.  You won't believe how much you get for 8,000 Won, or $8.

Spicy Fried Chicken.  You won’t believe how much you get for 8,000 Won, or $8.

The chicken was DELICIOUS.

The chicken was DELICIOUS.

We also got a monster sushi roll for 2,000 Won, or $2.  It had ham, shrimp, AND egg!

We also got a monster sushi roll for 2,000 Won, or $2.  It had ham, shrimp, AND egg!

The transit tour verdict?  A MUST DO!  I might even schedule in a super long layover next time we travel through South Korea solely for the purpose of taking another tour.

Free Showers

There are lots of travelers I dread sitting next to on an airplane.  There’s the guy with the cold, who is coughing, sneezing and blowing his nose the entire flight.  There’s the lady who wants to be your new bestie and won’t stop quizzing you on all your life details.  There’s also the guy on his way to a bachelor party, who is determined to single-handedly drink all the beer stocked on the entire airplane.  But there’s probably nothing worse than sitting next to the smelly person, who somehow doesn’t realize they need a shower and also prefers to fly with their shoes and socks taken off.  Fun times.

The only thing worse than sitting next to the smelly person is being the smelly person.  No one wants that.  Lucky for all of us, there are free showers at ICN airport!  And let me tell you, after a warm taxi ride to Chiang Mai Airport, followed by a red-eye flight, followed by a long transit tour, we needed a hot shower.  I would’ve settled for a garden hose at this point.

This is the only photo of the showers I got!  I assure you, they were really nice.

This is the only photo of the showers I got!  I assure you, they were really nice.

I expected a shower room that would evoke thoughts of prison; you know, the sterile white tile, the stained grout lines, the crappy shower head. Fortunately, I was way off.  The shower rooms were each more like a nice hotel bathroom than a prison.  They even had rainwater shower heads!  When we walked in, we were greeted by the guy at the desk who cleans the rooms after each use.  He handed us a towel along with organic shampoo and soap. Nice work, Seoul!

Free Cultural Experiences

ICN Airport scores high for being rich in cultural experiences.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to an airport before where they have craft areas set up where you can make traditional Korean handiworks.  There are also musical performances with traditional Korean musical instruments:

Traditional Musical Instrument performance at ICN Airport.

Traditional Musical Instrument performance at ICN Airport.

There was also a String Quartet performing with a piano accompanist!  These were some talented ladies:

String Quartet in ICN Airport.

String Quartet in ICN Airport.

There is even a Royal Parade several times per day!  A parade!  In the airport!  If that’s not enough for you, they also have “Traditional Cult Rehabilitation”:

Traditional Cult Rehabilitation?

Traditional Cult Rehabilitation?  (See the last line on the sign.)

Ok, only kidding on that last one.  Some smart ass scraped some letters off the sign so instead of saying “Traditional Culture Exhibition” I read it like “Traditional Cult Rehabilitation.”  We can blame that one on jet lag!

Restaurants, Cafes and Duty Free Shopping, Oh My!

If the tours, showers, and cult rehabilitation doesn’t keep you busy, there are tons of places where you can spend some of that extra Won you’ve got in your pockets.  ICN Airport is packed with duty free shopping for everything from rice cookers to liquor to fancy jewelry.  If that doesn’t strike your fancy, there is no shortage of restaurants and cafes.  There is even a Guinness cafe with Guinness on tap (for something like $14/pint)!

I liked the Charlie Brown Cafe:

ICN Airport's Charlie Brown Cafe

ICN Airport’s Charlie Brown Cafe

I also got a kick out of the Hello Kitty Cafe.

Here I am, striking a pose at the Hello Kitty Cafe.

Here I am, striking a pose at the Hello Kitty Cafe.  Can you find me?

There are trees.  INSIDE.

Someone at ICN Airport has a green thumb.  The airport is absolutely filled with nature – there are huge beautiful trees, tons of Orchids, there’s even a huge plant wall inside the smoker’s room.

Trees.  Inside!

Trees.  Inside!

Look at these gorgeous orchids.

Look at these gorgeous orchids.

We snagged some really comfortable leather lounge chairs in the relaxation area and napped.  Nothing makes a nap better than being surrounded by beautiful orchids:

Napping at ICN Airport, surrounded by Orchids.

Napping at ICN Airport, surrounded by Orchids.

Transit Hotel

If you just want to hole up in a nice room and shut the world out, it’s easy to do!  Rooms at the slightly pricey but luxurious Transit Hotel allow travelers to escape the airport madness and get some much needed rest.

We Want to Hear From You!

After having such a great time during our long layover in Seoul, I think it’d be nearly impossible to convince me to fly through Tokyo or Beijing ever again.  (Especially after officials in Beijing almost put me into quarantine.  That was fun.)  Have you had any notable, absurd, or just plain awesome airport experiences?  Please share ‘em – I could use a good laugh!

A Creative Twist on the Staycation

This is the last post of my 3-part series on Travel. In my first post, I revealed we’re no longer in the honeymoon phase in our love affair with Thailand. Last week, I shared some thoughts on Slow Travel. This week, I want to pitch a new idea – the Unconventional Staycation.

Do Vacations Make Us Happier?

Cartoon from liebers.com

Cartoon from liebers.com

Do vacations make us happier?  Shockingly, the answer for most people is no! According to a study performed by researchers in the Netherlands, vacationers were the happiest before their vacations. The researchers found that people derive the most pleasure from the planning, anticipating, and looking forward to their travels. The study found that vacation anticipation boosted happiness levels for eight weeks, but that happiness dropped back to the baseline level for most people as soon as they returned home! The only people who reportedly had higher levels of happiness after returning from vacation described their trips as “very relaxing”.

I don’t know about you, but in a world full of flight delays, lost luggage, car trouble, hurricanes, and broken air conditioners, you just about have to win the lottery to be able to describe your getaway as “very relaxing”. Enter a new hair-brained idea…

The Unconventional Staycation

Cartoon by Chuck Ingwersen of wordsandtoons.com

Cartoon by Chuck Ingwersen of wordsandtoons.com

I’d like to pitch a fun idea to you that Kevin’s genius friend Michael came up with. We’ve all probably heard of the concept of the staycation, where you take paid time off of work but opt to stay home rather than travel. It actually sounds like a pretty relaxing idea. You get to sleep in your own bed, don’t have to pay for hotel rooms, no one is going to try to nickel and dime you, and you get to avoid spending 18+ hours on an airplane.

Here’s the new twist – add a cultural bend to your next Staycation. Instead of just spending your week bumming around the house relaxing, use your week off to immerse yourself in a new culture without even leaving your hometown. The US is full of people who have moved here from all over the world, so it’s easier than ever to experience foreign traditions and foods in most cities and towns across America. Rent foreign films, read books about foreign cultures, go out for foreign food, listen to foreign music, throw a themed party (Cinco de Mayo, Oktoberfest, Carnivale, etc…), you get the idea!

She Faked a Trip to SE Asia

Beautiful, right?  This is the Sakya Temple in Seattle!

Beautiful, right? This is the Sakya Temple in Seattle!

One girl in the Netherlands took this idea to the next level. For 42 days, she faked a trip to Southeast Asia, fooling all of her friends and family with her Facebook posts showing her awesome trip. She ate exotic Asian foods at restaurants in her hometown of Amsterdam, visited a temple to talk to Buddhist monks, and even posted pictures of her snorkeling! (Turns out the photo was taken in a pool, and fish were photoshopped in later, but I don’t judge.)

The whole fake trip was a college project to show that posts on Facebook don’t necessarily paint an accurate picture of peoples lives. I have to give her credit for her commitment – she even decorated her room to look like a Southeast Asia hotel, and skyped with her family at odd hours of the night. I don’t think it’s necessary to take things that far, but you get the point.

Some Staycation Ideas

I came up with a few staycation ideas, but I think this would be easier to brainstorm if I was in Seattle. The wine aisle at Trader Joes would be fabulous for inspiration – their wines are divided up BY COUNTRY. I don’t know about you, but I really like to let booze help me make creative decisions. Here are some of my ideas:

Bust out your Beret!

Bust out your Beret!

France: Make crepes for breakfast, or have French Toast (I realize that’s probably not actually French, but cut me some slack). Rent the movie Amelie. Pack some baguette sandwiches and go on a lunch picnic. Take up smoking. Buy a beret and wear it around town. Attempt to make croissants (good luck on that one). And, of course, be sure you have a bottle of wine every day. Sounds like a good vacation to me.

Mexico: This one is easy, because almost every town in America has lots of Mexican Food Restaurants where you can eat ALL WEEK LONG. Also, this one means a siesta every afternoon – win! This staycation should end with a bang – grab a piñata from your local party store, put on some mariachi music, throw a fiesta for your friends, and go to town on the margaritas.

Thai Staycation Bonus: You won't get pooped on in the water by an elephant.

Thai Staycation Bonus: You won’t get pooped on in the water by an elephant.

Thailand: This week, you should have noodle or rice soup for breakfast! But no cereal. Splurge a little bit and get a bunch of mangos from Costco this week. Learn to make the heavenly dish that is som tam. If you really want to go all out, hide your hand soap and downgrade to scratchy toilet paper (I still haven’t found anything like Charmin over here). Go to the zoo and look at elephants. Find and visit a Buddhist temple in your area, and try to meet some monks. Go out for as much Thai food as you can handle (spoiler alert: Thai food never, ever gets old).

Bust out your Leiderhosen!

Put on your Leiderhosen!

Germany: Guten tag! The wine of the week is Riesling! Meals this week should be heavy on the meat, potatoes and cheese, and raw vegetables should be scarce. Eat softboiled eggs, prosciutto, brie, and bread rolls for breakfast. BE SURE TO BUY SOME NUTELLA. Bake some homemade pretzels and gingerbread, play lots of Oompah music like you’d hear at Oktoberfest. I will not judge you if you buy a leiderhosen or dirndl and wear it all week long. You should also get your own liter beer mug. Order an imported keg of German beer, and throw your own Oktoberfest party!

England: I don’t care what you do for this one, as long as you talk in a British accent all week.

We Want to Hear from You!

These are just a few of my thoughts – what are your ideas? I get more and more excited about this type of a staycation the more I think about it – how fun would something like this be for kids?!

The Art of Slow Travel

This post is Part 2 of a 3-part series on Travel.  I made a shameful admission last week that Kevin and I have recently discovered we might not like to travel.  (GASP!)  But there’s hope!  A new travel movement called “Slow Travel” is sweeping through the backpacker and digital nomad communities.

What is Slow Travel?

This is how to pack for an extended period of Slow Travel.

This is how to pack for an extended period of Slow Travel.

The Slow Travel movement is something that is quietly becoming a “thang” in our generation.  (I may have made that word up, but I use it all the time, so therefore it is real.  I define a “thang” as a popular trend.  Used in a sentence: “Skinny jeans are a thang now.”)  Slow Travel sprung out of the Slow Food movement, which began in the 1980’s in Italy as a protest against the opening of a McDonalds in Rome.  Instead of a manic 2-week vacation schedule, packed to the brim with tourist stop after tourist stop, slow travelers try to base their travels in one location and spend their vacation at a much slower pace.  Think about how relaxing it could be to rent a small home in Tuscany and spend your morning at the local farmer’s market, your afternoon reading at your favorite coffee shop, and evenings cooking dinner and enjoying a bottle of wine on your terrace.  In the US, slow travel is manifesting itself as a renewed interest in historic two-lane roads, like Route 66.

Traveling Slowly means you get to make fun trips to immigration.  YAY.

Traveling Slowly means you get to make fun trips to immigration. YAY.

Slow Travel is all about getting to know local people and learning about the culture in a new place instead of checking as many destinations as possible off of a list.  The biggest perk of all?  Slow Travel can be a lot easier on your wallet.  When you rent a place by the week or month, the nightly rates tend to drop dramatically.  Also, traveling slowly tends to mean you get off the tourist trail a little bit.  This can save money in restaurants and shops.  We’ve noticed that in Chiang Mai, a food and groceries tend to cost almost twice as much in the tourist areas compared to the neighborhood where we live.

How Do We Slow Down?

Cartoon from http://www.nicholsoncartoons.com.au/

Cartoon from http://www.nicholsoncartoons.com.au/

Did you know that the United States is the only developed country in the whole world that doesn’t require a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday?  According to a USA Today article published in 2013, workers in the US have an average of 16 paid days off per year, while the average in Austria is a whopping 35 days!  I was shocked to read that one in four Americans doesn’t receive a single paid day off.  Here’s a peek at some paid time off statistics from around the world.  Warning, the data in this table may make you feel angry/sad/jaded:

Country Average Paid Days Off Per Year
United States 16
Austria 35
Portugal 35
Germany 34
Spain 34
France 31
Belgium 30
Italy 30
New Zealand 30

I don’t want to hate on our American culture too much here.  I mean, America is the home of so many things I truly love:  Chicago style deep dish pizza, wheel of fortune, Bluegrass music, the Super Bowl, incredibly beautiful National Parks, apple pie, walkable cities, lemonade stands, Thanksgiving, fantastic comedy (Louis C.K., Jon Stewart, Parks & Rec, Saturday Night Live, I could go on and on…), Hamburgers and Hot Dogs, craft beer, and good BBQ.   I just think it’s sort of ironic that having an American passport enables you to travel nearly anywhere in the world, but being American means you probably don’t have the time to do it.

Is There a Solution?

Kevin and I at Seatac Airport in April, leaving for our big adventure.

Here we are at Seatac Airport in April, leaving for our big adventure.

Vacation limitations are a huge part of why Kevin and I quit our jobs and moved abroad.  As my infamous vacation usage spreadsheet grew and grew, we realized that we’d have to wait until our mid-forties to have kids if we wanted to get through our travel list first. We feel so lucky we were able to save up to do this, and even luckier that there are places like Chiang Mai where we can stretch our dollars many times further than we did back home.

Slow Travel Pro Trip: Learn to work from a hammock!

Slow Travel Pro Trip: Learn to work from a hammock!

So is there a solution to the never-having-enough-vacation problem?  Unfortunately, it feels like a cultural shift needs to occur in America for anything to change.  I think there’s hope, though!  More and more companies are shifting towards an “unlimited” vacation model, allowing employees to take as many vacation days as they want as long as they get their work done.  It’s becoming increasingly common at newer companies.  Evernote, a tech company, took things a step further, according to a Forbes article from 2012.  Recognizing that taking time off actually makes employees more productive, Evernote began offering employees $1,000 per year to spend on their vacations!  FullContact, another tech company, calls this new trend “paid paid vacation”, and offers its employees a generous $7,500 per year!  They also stipulate that you must truly unplug, and don’t allow their employees to work remotely while they’re away.  I like it.

We Want to Hear from You!

What do you think about the current vacation policies in America?  Do you think we’re moving in the right direction?  Where do you think things will be in a few decades?

Turns Out We Don’t Like To Travel

Turns Out We Don’t Like To Travel. Oops.

This may surprise you, but Kevin and I have recently realized that we don’t like to travel.

I know I know, what the heck are we doing living over here in Southeast Asia if we don’t like travel? We’ve been asking ourselves the same question, and we are more than a little surprised by this realization.

When we were living and working in Seattle, we would plan these fantastic, action-packed vacations, designed to squeeze every hour out of our accrued vacation we possibly could. I had a ridiculously elaborate spreadsheet that laid out our vacation hours well into the year 2017. Shame on you if you surprised us with a destination wedding, causing me to re-jigger my schedule (now how will we see Machu Picchu in 2016?!)

We looked forward to these vacations all year long, cherished every day of our trip, but were usually exhausted when we got home. We felt trapped by our limited vacation hours, but we were also disappointed at the way vacations wore us out. This is one of the biggest reasons we cooked up this move-to-Southeast-Asia scheme. Don’t get us wrong, we definitely feel lucky to be here. We just want to be honest about the disappointments and share some of our thoughts.

Three Types of Travel

Kevin and I have been having a lot of philosophical conversations lately about travel, and have decided that there three types of travel:

  • First, and most common among working Americans, is the frenetic fast-paced see-it-all-do-it-all trip where you hop from destination to destination in an effort to maximize every last minute of your 2-weeks of vacation. It’s common at the end of these trips to feel like you need a vacation from your vacation, but usually it’s just time to go back to work.
  • Second is the “Slow Travel” movement. More on this next week, but this type of travel tends to be the type where you stay in one place for a month or so, and get acquainted with the local culture. Spoiler alert: I think this style of travel is the most appealing.
  • Third is the “Living Abroad” or “Extreme Slow” style of travel. This is what we’re doing right now, living for 6+ months here in Thailand. The problem with this type of travel is that you’re in one place long enough to get through the “This is awesome” and “I could stay here forever” phases, and run into the jaded “Why can’t they do things like in Amurrrrica” phase.

The Pitfalls of Fast Travel

Fast Travel in Germany.  WE MUST SEE ALL THE CASTLES!

Fast Travel in Germany. WE MUST SEE ALL THE CASTLES!

When is the last time you’ve returned from two weeks of vacation feeling rested? Many of us have experienced a vacation where you try to pack too much sightseeing into a limited amount of time. My parents might remember our family vacation in Southern California when I was 12 years old and wrote out an itinerary designed to maximize our trip by scheduling everything down to the half-hour. I wanted to ensure we got to hit both Planet Hollywood and the Hard Rock Cafe for meals. This has apparently been a lifelong problem for me.

Let’s face it, fast travel is not super fun. With a tightly packed schedule, a problem like lost luggage blows up into an all-consuming catastrophe. You might end up missing out on an entire beach day because you had to go shopping for a new bikini and sunblock. There’s just hardly any margin for anything to go wrong. Fast travel also usually leaves me with a sense of homelessness from packing up and moving so often, and you can end up spending more time getting to new destinations than actually getting to see them.

This is Kevin's I've-seen-enough-castles-and-churches-to-last-a-lifetime Face.

This is Kevin’s I’ve-seen-enough-castles-and-churches-to-last-a-lifetime Face.

Even though we’re now unemployed, Kevin and I somehow STILL fall into the fast travel trap when we go on little mini-trips here in Southeast Asia. When we were recently in Koh Tao and Koh Phangan, we couldn’t wait to get back “home” to Chiang Mai. When we finally did get back, Kevin had an ear infection, I was having headaches because my sinuses got so dry, we were cut, scratched, bumped and bruised, and we both pulled muscles getting back into our gym routine! Fast travel literally takes a physical toll on us, but we still can’t seem to help ourselves.

Fast Traveling means never recovering from a hangover.  Oktoberfest 2012.

Fast Traveling means never recovering from a hangover. Oktoberfest 2012.

The Fast Travel habit is such a hard one to break, and I think a lot of it stems from America’s fast-paced style of living and the fact that most of us only get two weeks of vacation per year. Naturally, we want to make the most of those precious two weeks. But how do you satisfy the I-want-to-see-the-whole-world mentality without traveling so fast that you miss out on some of the best things a culture has to offer? If you’re planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe, how do you see all the major cities without feeling like you only scratched the surface of each one? How do you “see enough” without “seeing too little”? I don’t know the right answers to those questions. I have a feeling that winning the lottery might help, though.

The Pitfalls of Living Abroad

Kevin and I fall into the Extreme Slow Travel category right now, and some of the cultural differences we used to find “cute” are now just exasperating. For example, I am beyond annoyed at the fact that pedestrians in Chiang Mai never, ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER have the right of way. Ever! Even if you’re at a cross walk stoplight, and the light is red for the cars, they’re very likely to run through the light. I’m currently working towards perfecting my New Yorker accent on the phrase “heeeeey, I’m walkin’ heeeere!”  Also, we just spent a ridiculous amount of time lost in the Thai medical system and only have 10 sleeping pills to show for it (see last week’s post).

Budweiser. So sad.

Living abroad means you might pay over $4 for a single can of Budweiser. You’ll be sad about the price, and even sadder when you realize it tastes good compared to what you’ve gotten used to drinking.

I also had an absurd realization today. Kevin and I regularly shout “POOP!” at each other when we’re out and about in Chiang Mai. This is sort of to be expected in a city with so many stray dogs – there is dog poop everywhere, and (understandably) no one cleans it up. I get that – if it’s not my dog, I’m not scooping it. I just think it’s funny that we probably say “POOP!” to each other probably more often than we say “Hello”.

I do want to defend our cultural insensitivity a little bit here by saying that this is not something that only Kevin and I are experiencing. It’s also something that’s not isolated to just Americans or people from Western cultures. We had quite the discussion with a nice Thai woman who has spent a lot of time in England because that’s where her husband is from. As it turns out, she’s super irritated with a lot of things about the British culture (speed limits, the cold weather, the food) and she doesn’t like to visit!

It seems like no matter what country you’re from, it’s tough to adjust to a new culture that differs from the one you’re used to. So that’s a relief – I’m not just an asshole traveler. Phew!

Traveling is like Eating Cake

We saw this "crepe" cake in a coffee shop in Chiang Mai

We saw this “crepe” cake in a coffee shop in Chiang Mai

I love a good cake metaphor. So here’s my thought. Traveling is like eating chocolate cake. If you travel too fast, and only get a taste of a location, it’s like having a tiny slice of cake. You’re left with regret and a desire for more. However, if you move to a new country and stay long enough to get a little bit jaded, it’s kind of like sitting down and eating the whole damn cake. You might never want to have a piece of that cake ever again.  (Unless it’s my Grandma’s Angel Food cake with the heavenly frosting.  I could sit and eat five of those cakes without a drop of remorse.)

We Want to Hear from You!

This is part 1 in a 3-part series I’m planning on the topic of traveling. I’d love to hear your thoughts on travel. Do you like to travel? Which category appeals most to you? Have you regretted any too-short or too-long vacations?

A Saga to get Sleeping Pills in Chiang Mai

Caption

Hanging out with the pill statue at our neighborhood pharmacy.

Did you know that Zolpidem (off brand Ambien) is a highly regulated, government controlled substance in Thailand?  Neither did I.  Being from a country where many doctors hand this stuff out like candy let me a little bit ill-prepared for our foray into the Thai Medical system to try to obtain some sleeping pills.

I definitely am not a habitual sleeping pill user.  In fact, I regularly fall asleep while still holding my Kindle when all the lights are on. However, I am highly open to using one of these magical pills to sleep soundly on a 13-hour flight.  I also have been known to use it for one night at my travel destination to get over the jetlag hump.

So Riddle me this – how many hospital visits does it take to procure some sleeping pills in Chiang Mai?  The way we did it, it unfortunately (and infuriatingly), it took FOUR visits, which ended up costing us about eight hours out of our lives, and we only have ten pills to show for it!  Read on for the tale of our epic journey…

Hospital Visit #1

First we stopped by Chiang Mai Ram Hospital on a whim on the way from the Khao Kha Moo lady who serves delicious tender-cooked pork with rice. We usually follow up Khao Kha Moo lady with a trip to the cake woman, who makes the most divine coconut cake on this planet.  Sadly, she wasn’t there that night, which we should’ve realized was a sign of the struggle to come.  We popped into Chiang Mai Ram, where we learned that a doctor must be a Psychiatrist in order to subscribe sleeping pills.  The Psychiatrist was not currently in, which didn’t surprise us at 8pm on a Sunday night, so we headed home.

Hospital Visit #2

After doing some research, I learned that Sriphat Medical Center (part of Maharaj Hospital complex) is supposed to be cheaper than Chiang Mai Ram. You know we can’t resist a bargain, so we headed to Sriphat to scope things out on a Friday morning.  We walked in, realized there wasn’t a single sign in English, and realized we were probably the only non-Thai people in the entire building.  Luckily, a super nice man who spoke English took pity on us and pointed us up to the 13th floor.

We packed into a hot, steamy elevator with about 15 other people and slowly made our way up to the 13th floor. When we got there, we were met by a nice lady in a pink jacket who spoke English and escorted us around, and we were super excited that this floor had pretty good aircon.  The lady in the pink jacket helped us register, snapped my photo for my hospital record, and walked us in to the nurse’s desk.

This is when things started to head south.  They said we should come back at 2pm to see “Dr. Aneesa.”  I wasn’t mad yet, so we said okay and happily went about our day.

Hospital Visit #3

We came back to Sriphat at 2pm, headed to the nurse’s station, and no one knew who this mysterious “Dr. Aneesa” is.  So that was weird.  The nurse was so puzzled about why I thought we had an appointment, but set us up for a 9am appointment on Monday.  In spite of the appointment time, she advised us that it’s first come first serve.  Frustration began to set in…

Hospital Visit #4

We showed up to Sriphat right on time at 9am Monday morning, headed up to the 13th floor again, and were so sad at what the nurse’s station told us. Sure, my “appointment” is for 9am, but I’m number four in the queue, and the psychiatrist won’t be here until 10:30am.  Awesome!  SO FAR SO GOOD, right?!  Luckily, Kevin and I brought our Kindles and iPhones, so we were able to stay occupied.  Maybe this is part of the visit with the psychiatrist – they try to see if they can push you to snap.  Good one, guys!  On the plus side, we were on the 13th floor, so there was a pretty nice view:

The Nice View that kept me sane!  There's a golf course in the middle, and the airport in the back right.

The Nice View that kept me sane at Sriphat! There’s a golf course in the middle, and the airport in the back right.

Finally, at about 11am, after over two hours of waiting, we got to visit with the Psychiatrist. She was nice enough, but seemed extremely suspicious that I was asking for sleeping pills.  She grilled me about why I wanted them, asked if I’ve ever seen a psychiatrist in the U.S., and wanted to know if I had taken them before and in what dosage.  It was kind of an ordeal.

So, Did We Ever Get the Pills?

We spent 8 hours at 4 hospital visits and all we got were these 10 measly pills!

We spent 8 hours at 4 hospital visits and all we got were these 10 measly pills!

Yes, we did.  But in the end, we learned that Thai laws limit a prescription for Zolpidem to just TEN pills.  TEN!  Or at least that’s what the hospital told us.  I spent 8 hours in hospitals, spent 1,230 Baht ($38 US), and all I got was ten measly sleeping pills.  Would I do it again?  Never!  Am I glad we did it?  Not at all!

Luckily, one good thing came out of this ordeal – we sort of had an epiphany while we were waiting for the doctor in the hospital.  The whole reason we went to Sriphat was to try to save a little money – maybe five dollars, at the most ten dollars.

We realized that if you’re willing to spend maybe 25% extra, no matter where you are in the world, things are generally much more pleasant.  If we spent just a little bit more and went to Chiang Mai Ram (the more upscale private hospital) we’re sure things would’ve gone much more smoothly.

This holds for so many things we’ve encountered in Thailand.  Spend an extra dollar on dinner and it can save you from a rough day of stomach problems.  Fork out an extra $5 for the first class overnight bus and you’ll actually get a decent night’s sleep.  Better yet, spend an extra $35 to fly instead of bus, and you can save yourself ten hours of traveling.

We Want To Hear From You!

Have you had any crazy medical experiences in foreign countries?  Everyone loves the we-don’t-speak-the-same-language game of charades when body parts and medical problems are involved.  Please share your stories with us!