Friday, September 6, 2013

Muay Thai Fight Night

After several days of being handed flyers for Muay Thai boxing, I decided to give it a shot on my last night in Chiang Mai.  I bought the VIP ticket for 600 THB ($20), 200 THB more than the regular, so I could enjoy ring-side views at Thapae Boxing Stadium.  I bought the ticket at my hotel, and as an added bonus it included transportation to the stadium in a tuk-tuk. 

I didn’t know what to expect, but it ended up being a very fun night.  The intensity inside was high, and all the fighters were very focused. 

 There were seven fights of five rounds each, with the last being an international bout with a German and a Thai.  The evening starts with young fighters (maybe 15 years old), but the ages gradually climb.  

One tip if you are looking for some cool pictures is to head to the stadiums back corner after each fight.  There is a sort of "winner's circle" where the winning fighter will pose.  Some even let spectators take photos with them.  

There is also plenty of gambling.  There are multiple Thai guys walking around before each fight asking you if you want to bet.  I did this twice and lost both, would suggest avoiding as they know a LOT more than you will.  However, the guy next to me did win, so it’s not a complete scam.  Overall, this was a fun night out in Chiang Mai, and I would highly recommend to anyone who is looking to see Thailand's most famous sport.     

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Kyoto's Smile Burger

I've been in love with the Japanese food so far.  It's been a great few days of non-stop sushi and noodles.  I made it a goal to eat only Japanese this week, but I saw a restaurant near Santiago Guesthouse, my hostel in Kyoto, that changed that plan.  Let me introduce you to Smile Burger, home of the beastly Smile Burger Q.

Located within walking distance of both the Kiyomizudera Temple and the Yasaka Shrine, this restaurant is in the Higashiyama ward of Kyoto.  Tomo, the manager, was very nice and spoke good English.  The restaurant had a cool style and environment, and was playing music from Weezer and Third Eye Blind.  Also, note they are open from 11am ~ Sold Out ;)

Tomo preparing the burger
Small dining area

The specialty of Smile Burger is the Smile Burger Q, a four patty monster that is bigger than your face.  It will set you back 2,650 Yen ($27), but considering the fact you probably won't finish it in one sitting, the leftovers can get you through dinner.  If you look at it this way, the price isn't too bad.  Anyways, the burger tasted great!  It was served with chips.  

The Q Burger
nom nom nom

Another specialty is the flavored shaved ice for 300 Yen ($3).  My new friend Max, who joined me for lunch, said it "wasn't too sweet, but had a strong, pleasant melon flavor."  After digging into the Q burger, I was in no position to try a shaved ice.

Max with his shaved ice
If you are in the area, and are looking for a break from Japanese, Smile Burger is the place to go!  Thanks, Tomo!

Address: 4-188-1 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Deadly Dinner: Fugu

Tonight, I tried Fugu in a small restaurant in Kyoto, Japan.  Fugu, or pufferfish, contains tetrodotoxin, and is therefore extremely poisonous (more lethal than cyanide) if not prepared right.  Thankfully, there are strict regulations on becoming certified to prepare and serve Fugu in Japan.

After receiving directions from the hostel manager on where to locate Fugu, I walked down the street until I saw a small restaurant with a tank holding two pufferfish.  "Ahh, this must be it!"

"Hello, you must be my dinner..." (insert evil laugh)
Scanning the menus made me sick before ever tasting the pufferfish, as the set prices were quite high (although still much cheaper than United States, where only a limited number of restaurants can serve it.  Oh, and it's banned completely in the European Union).

Not wanting to break the bank, I went with the Fugu sashimi, accompanied by a Sapporo draft.  A few minutes later, my order arrived.  I made sure to enjoy a few sips of fine Japanese beer first, just in case it was my last chance.

My life was in his hands*
Fugu sashimi
Finally, the time came to try this famous dish.  Drumroll......and, it was alright.  Wasn't bad, but didn't love it, it was definitely more for the adrenaline rush and story.  Prefer salmon sashimi any day.

After finishing off the plate (and the beer), I walked out down 1,650 Yen ($16.72).  Glad I tried it, but don't have any plans of going back for seconds.

*Please note the exaggeration here

The Thrifty Trekker

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Week at Elephant Nature Park

Hey all!  Just finished up a fun week of volunteering at Elephant Nature Park a couple hours outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand.  What a great week it was!  Not only did we get up-close interaction with the amazing animals, but it gave me perspective into just how much work it takes to run an operation such as this one.  For anyone reading who is interested in doing this, I hope this post gives you some insight into how the week goes. 

We arrived early Monday morning to their city office in Chiang Mai.  After getting checked in and paying the remaining balance of 9500 Thai Baht ($302), we were off on a 1.5 hour ride to the park.

Getting checked in
Upon arriving, we walked straight to the open grass area and got to feed an elephant assorted fruits.  What a great introduction to the week!  After this amazing photo op, we headed to the main lodge, where we hung out until lunch at 11:30am.  In the afternoon, we attended an ice breaker to meet other volunteers, an information session, and moved into our rooms.  The rooms were nice and definitely matched the surrounding environment well (who wants to stay in a Hilton in the middle of the jungle anyways!?)
Open field
Pure excitement!
The rooms come with much needed mosquito nets!
After we were settled, we got to bathe multiple elephants in the river!  To top off a great first day, a local Shaman held a welcoming ceremony for all volunteers to grant us good luck.  Then we had dinner and played cards the rest of the evening (which is how most evenings go).  
Water for elephants
Welcoming ceremony
Tuesday is the first work day.  The volunteers were split into three groups, which stay together for the rest of the week.  Our group was assigned to weeding a grass field.  Long blades of grass are grown for seven months before being harvested and fed to the elephants, but need weeding once a month.  Work groups meet at 8am every day.  After weeding in the morning, lunch break, and a little more weeding, we arrived back at around 2pm.  Later in the afternoon, we enjoyed a speech and Q&A session with the park's founder, Sangduen Chailert, aka Lek.  After dinner, I enjoyed an hour-long traditional Thai massage from a local masseuse ($5).  Then more cards :)
Weeding selfie!!!
Working hard!
Cards! (Photo: Rich Robinson)

Our job for Wednesday was one of the easier ones.  We worked in the kitchen, washing and cutting fruit for the elephants.  Another part of this job is unloading any fruit trucks that arrive, which can take a significant chunk of time (it seems as if the fruit is never-ending!!!).  This is a fun day, as the job is out of the sun and you get to listen to music.  After lunch, we planted trees in the grass reserve, then got to walk towards a herd of elephants nearby.  Another great photo op.  Evening was again dinner then cards.
Washing pumpkins!
Slicing watermelons (Photo: Rich Robinson)
Tree planting
The dreaded poop scooping arrived Thursday, but it really wasn't too bad.  It's a quick job...less than an hour if everyone is working hard.  After cleaning all the elephant pens, we got cleaned up and went to visit a local school.  This was so much fun, as the local children were so excited to see us.  Some played volleyball with the kids, while others helped with English homework or enjoyed Thai tea with them.  
Cleaning an elephant pen
She spent 20 minutes scouring my phone for games
After lunch, we washed more fruit for the elephants before going on an elephant walk.  The walk is truly an amazing experience, you certainly don't want to forget your camera.  This is when you will get up close and personal with several herds of elephants.  Evening guessed it, dinner and cards.
My favorite pic this week

Bath time
With the herd
Elephant kisses
Friday was my favorite day of work.  Although it wasn't the easiest of jobs, cutting corn was very satisfying because you could clearly see your results.  You also feel badass, being in the hot sun dressed in jeans and long sleeves, holding a machete while chopping down corn.  After clearing the corn field and tying into bundles, everyone works quickly to shuttle the corn into the truck that brought you there.  The catch is when the truck is full, there isn't another truck to ride back in, so you ride on top of the corn.  It's a cool ride that definitely had some out of their comfort zone.  Personally, I enjoyed falling asleep on a 3 meter stack of corn in the sun while in a moving truck.  
Loading the truck
Amazing views in the fields
In the corn truck
Saturday, the three groups combined to work only two jobs, working in the kitchen or scooping poop.  After these were both complete, the groups work together to prepare the mud pit for the elephants.  This actually just means there is a huge mud fight!!!  It was a blast and almost no one escaped without being covered in mud!  The afternoon is free, so I joined some other volunteers and went ziplining at nearby Zipline Chiang Mai.  After, everyone meets for an authentic Northern Thai dinner, with dance performances from local children.  Then prepare for a bit of partying with the other volunteers, as many will feel like having a few drinks after a long week of volunteering.  Just remember that you have to work Sunday morning ;)

Mud fight!
Ziplining through the jungle

Thai dinner
Sunday is a quick morning of work, the same as Saturday but with no mud pit.  After work, you check out of your room, have lunch, and before you know it, are headed back to the city.  Just like that, an amazing week is over.  Except you will leave with great memories and many new friends.

If you are interested in volunteering or donating to Elephant Nature Park, information can be found here.

The Thrifty Trekker