Baxter State Park Nordic Backcountry Tour (2018) Part 2 — The Storm

Oh my, after nearly a year, I finally got around to putting together videos of the last two days of our trip last year. I was motivated to finally do this because…we’re going to Baxter again this year, in about a week and a half! And I couldn’t go on this year’s trip before posting these videos.

Ted’s last post ended on a cliffhanger: “It started snowing soon after we got back. At the time, we had no idea that this was the beginning of a 48-hour winter storm and two days of trail breaking that made the trailbreaking today seem like we were getting towed by a snowmobile.”

Indeed, it snowed about two feet over the next two days of our trip. We skied back to the car through the deep snow and as the blizzard was still blizzarding, though it probably would have been wiser to stay put and wait for the ranger to come up on a snowmobile to break the trail for us. (He did eventually come to break the trail for us about halfway through day five.) Perhaps we’ll be smarter next time. But for now, enjoy some embarrassing videos of us whining about how difficult it is to ski through a lot of heavy snow.

Day 4, March 14: Russell Pond Bunkhouse to South Branch Pond Bunkhouse (9.79 miles)  

Day 5, March 15: South Branch Pond Bunkhouse to Matagamon Parking Lot (11.14 miles)

We will try to be better about documenting our trip in a timely fashion this year!


SE Asia Days 17-18: Bonus day in Luang Prabang and Travel to Thailand

Jan 11, 2017

Bonus day in Luang Prabang! We didn’t want to pack too much into the day; we wanted to relax and wander and simply enjoy one last day in this city we’ve come to love. We slept in until 9 or so, showered, and headed up to the Chang Inn, where we sat on the porch swing, ate chocolate croissants, drank siphon coffee (so cool – see below), and people watched.

After an hour or so, we set off. We tried to sign up for a Lao cooking class (since we enjoyed the weaving class so much), but the one we wanted to do was full. Then we had to go back to the hotel because we were changing rooms (back to our original guesthouse, which also had lovely rooms, just smaller).

Then we headed to get more noodles (fifth-and last-time customers :'(). After lunch we visited the Royal Palace Museum, which was super cool.

It’s a palace built in 1904 where a couple Lao kings lived before the communists took over in 1975. The Lao government restored the palace and opened it to the public in 1995. Every wall in the throne room is filled with the beautiful glass mosaics depicting everyday Lao life like those seen at Wat Xieng Thong.

The throne itself was beautiful, but it was never actually used. Sisavang Vatthana, the last King of Laos, took over in 1959 and commissioned a new throne for his coronation. However, the astronomers (we think?) could not determine an auspicious date for the coronation, and were still trying to decide when he (the king) was forced to abdicate in 1975.

There were two reception rooms, a dining room, and three bedrooms visible to the public filled with original furniture as well as some other royal objects. The bedrooms were surprisingly simple with white walls and sheets, minimal and sleek mid-century furniture, and dark wood mouldings. It was refreshing to see such simplicity where one might expect to see ugly ornate design. No photos were allowed, so the palace’s looks will remain a mystery to you until you visit Luang Prabang! But here are more pictures from our street wandering.

Then we got more coffee from Chang Inn (this time we got a percolator — they had all the different ways to make coffee!) and played the game Set, which has been a consistently entertaining travel game.

Next we headed to the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Center to learn more about some of the ethnic groups within Laos (there are 49 main ethnicities consisting of over 160 ethnic groups!) and their traditional crafts. Yet another heavenly place for me — it seems that each of the major people groups in Laos takes textile design very seriously and it was such a lovely experience to learn more about the history behind their craft, as well as to gain more appreciation for the incredible amount of time and creativity that go into making each piece. For example, the H’mong new year celebration is a huge event involving many festivities, including courtship (because the H’mong have a strict prohibition against marrying within one’s own clan and this festival is prime inter-clan mingling time), and mothers will take months to prepare costumes for their sons and daughters. As a perpetual craft-project-quitter, I am so impressed by the patience, diligence, and creativity that are so valued and abundant in this country. Another must-see if you come to Luang Prabang!


After this, we walked through steadily increasing rain back toward town and got drenched. We found respite from the rain at the Ock Pop Tok store, where we agonized for probably an hour over whether we should buy one last hand-woven Lao textile.

We did.

Then we got our final Lao meal at the Bamboo Tree. I think we’ll be making a lot of Lao Laap at home. It’s absolutely delicious and fairly simple. I don’t know why it isn’t more popular in the States. Sticky rice, now, that’s more complicated.

Finally, we headed home to pack up for an early start tomorrow.
Jan. 12, 2017

Oof, it has been rainy here the past couple days despite a weather guide that looks like this:

Pretty much no rain in January. Because of that weather guide, we decided not to waste space on rain gear for this trip. People who know us well know that we can be stubbornly, unreasonably frugal about weird things, so we’ve been traipsing around getting genuinely drenched for a couple days rather than spending a dollar each on a cheap poncho.

Anyway, this morning was particularly rainy, and in another fit of stubborn unreasonableness, we decided to bike the 6k to the airport at 5:45a in the pitch dark, pouring rain. This was not a great idea. Though the town is well-lit, the outskirts are not, so mix that with soaked and foggy glasses and we were basically riding blind. Traffic was light, though, and somehow we made it, but we got a lot of laughs from the check-in agent and others at the airport. Oh well, we were determined to bike!

We flew to Bangkok and got through immigration in time for the 11a minibus that was scheduled to depart for Koh Chang, just as we’d hoped to do! Ted got money from the ATM while I got our bikes, then we went to buy bus tickets, but they were sold out for 11a, so we’d have to wait until 2p.
However, this turned out to be a very good thing because guess who lost their passport in the middle of one of the world’s busiest airports? After a quick panic attack, Ted ran off in search of his passport. He first went to a “Tourist Police” desk near the cafeteria where the discovery was made, and was told to go to the “Tourist Police” desk.

This was confusing, and he thought he knew where he dropped it — at the ATM machine on the security restricted side of the airport—so he went to the police officer guarding the exit. He obviously wasn’t allowed back in, but the officer was touchingly concerned that Ted lost his passport and directed him to the “question mark,” by which the officer meant the information desk (brief aside: once again, we are so fortunate that English is both our native language and apparently the worldwide travel language, I can’t imagine Ted to trying to find his passport if he only spoke Italian, for example). So he ran up to the information desk, and lo and behold, the woman working there was logging his passport in the lost-and-found ledger. What a stroke of luck!!!

In the past few months, I dropped my phone (with my ID in a pocket on the back) on Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn and had it returned to me, and Ted dropped his passport in the airport and had it returned. So it seems people are generally good, but I sure hope we’ve learned our lessons about keeping tabs on our stuff, and if not, I hope our luck doesn’t run out soon! Anyway, as Ted’s off searching, I’m just sitting there with our stuff panicking for 15 minutes because we have no way to contact each other, then I see Ted running back to tell me he found it because he knew I’d be sitting there panicking. Phew. That would have ruined the trip.

So instead of cancelling our beach trip and spending the next few days at the embassy trying to replace a passport, we ate and waited around for a few hours, then boarded a minibus for Koh Chang, an island a “5-hour drive” from the Bangkok airport. Eight hours and several inexplicable stops later, we arrived at our guesthouse (our own bungalow!), went out to get food, and went to sleep.

Three days on the beach coming up!


SE Asia Days 15-16: Tad Kuang Si to Luang Prabang

Jan. 9, 2017

Ride map.

Kuang Si was a nice place to spend a day, but we were excited to get back to Luang Prabang, so we woke up early and quickly packed our bags and ate breakfast.

We were checking out when we found out how pricey the dinners were, and that put us in a bit of a sour mood to start off. It’s not that the extra four dollars per meal is a big deal, we just hate feeling like we’ve been taken for a ride. If the owner had just told us the price of the family dinners when we checked in, everything would have been fine.

Anyways, we hopped on the bikes and started for home. And it was great! The rolly-ness of the hills was even better than the way up and the big climb in the middle felt like nothing! Surprise hard rides are awful (see, e.g., the ride to Pakse) but surprise easy rides are great!

    We made great time into town. Since we were fairly certain that our room wouldn’t be ready yet, we made the obvious choice and went straight to our chocolate croissant spot, where we parked our hogs with all the others and enjoyed some post-ride pastry delight.

After we finished, we headed back to our guesthouse (the same one we stayed at before), and found out that Eric was overbooked. But, because he is a good and kind and forthright hotel proprietor, he had booked us a room in the guesthouse next door. He promised us that it was actually a nicer room than those in his guesthouse, but it wasn’t ready.

We had a half hour to kill, and, never being ones to turn down the opportunity for a passion fruit smoothie, we didn’t.

We came back to the guesthouse after the allotted time was up, and our room still wasn’t ready. We sat in the lobby for a while, writing blog posts and catching up on the parts of the internet we missed over the weekend.

Our room was finally ready round about 2:30p, and it was worth the wait. Big and beautiful with a large window overlooking the river. A wonderful shower (the first enclosed shower of the trip – all other showers have been like boat showers, where the whole bathroom is a giant shower), soft towels, pressed white sheets, beautiful wide-plank wood floors, and a high wood ceiling. It was, in short, just a lovely room.

Because the room was so nice, we moved slowly as we were cleaning up and getting ready to go back out. But hunger got the best of us, so soon we were off to Toutu Noodles, where our new best friend remembered us even though we missed Sunday.

After this latest bowl of heaven, we wandered around the town a little more, spending a fair amount of time browsing the store of a H’mong lady who repurposes old traditional clothing into beautiful tapestries, pillowcases, bags, etc. We also signed up to take a day-long class tomorrow on traditional Laos weaving and dying techniques at Ock Pop Tok, a social enterprise that supports local weavers and teaches classes on traditional Laos weaving. It’s a great organization, check it out!

At dinner time, we wandered over to Tamarind, a restaurant well known for preparing excellent versions of traditional Lao dishes. We got a seat right by the river and shared a some buffalo laap and a taster plate including Lao sausage, traditional Luang Prabang stew, chili paste, dried Mekong River weed, and a bamboo salad. Everything was delicious, including the cucumber-mint mojitos and the Mekong Sunset, a drink made with local rice whiskey.

After dinner we walked back to the hotel and quickly fell asleep.

Jan. 10, 2017

We woke up this morning and pretty quickly decided we wanted another day in Luang Prabang, so we decided that we would try to change our flight if there was no change fee. Turns out it’s extraordinarily simple to change your flight with Lao Airlines – you just send an email and they send you a new itinerary for your chosen time, no fee.

We headed to breakfast at a little coffee shop and got an approximation of a breakfast burrito and lattes with fun latte art, then headed to Ock Pop Tok’s store in town to catch a tuk tuk ride to our full-day weaving and dying workshop at the living arts center just outside of town center.


We were quickly greeted by our instructor for the day, master weaver Sengjan, and given some silk worm poo tea, which tasted better than its name suggested, but really was worm poo. Our instructor then brought us through the process of textile creation, from silk production to weaving. First she showed us a rice basket full of silk worms and explained the lifecycle to us, as well as the types of silk that are produced. She showed us raw and refined silk, and eri silk, a thicker yarn-like silk used for winter scarves. Then we learned about the natural dyes that are traditionally used in Laos to dye thread and textiles. They use things such as seeds from the annato tree, turmeric and beet root, jackfruit and Sappan wood, and indigo leaves to dye.

We then got to tour the workshop where Ock Pop Tok employs several master weavers to weave on their looms and sell their creations at very fair prices (read: prices tourists think are far too expensive, but vastly underpriced when you consider the work each piece takes). We observed some simple weaving in a village a couple days ago, but the things these ladies were weaving were much more ornate and time consuming. One type of weaving, called discontinuous supplementary weft weaving, requires women to hand weave individual patterns with multiple colors per row. It takes a full day for a master weaver to finish just 10-15cm, and their creations generally end up being nearly 2m long. Another technique called Ikat, the looks of which have been poorly imitated in the west over the last few years, requires women to lay out a pattern with silk thread, cover select parts with plastic, resist dye the exposed thread, roll this thread onto spools, then weave the piece together. It’s extremely hard to get right, and it was super impressive to watch a young master weaver at work on an ikat piece. Finally, we got to see someone weaving raw silk, which is harder to work with, produces a transparent look, and is used in some impressive pieces around the shop.

Then we headed over to where a Hmong woman worked on a traditional Hmong textile, painting a wax pattern on hemp cloth that would later be dyed in indigo, then boiled to remove the wax and reveal a striking pattern. Here she is painting, then the before and after of a piece of hemp cloth, then a traditional Mong Njua (a Hmong subgroup) skirt, where you can see the batik on cotton with red fabric sewn over it in patterns.

So beautiful, right?! I have a small textile obsession, so I’m in heaven at this point.

Now it’s our turn! We used huge bamboo rods to pull bundles of annato seeds from trees, chopped jackfruit and sappan tree wood, and ground up indigo and annato with mortar and pestle before boiling some cloth napkins in various pots of natural dye. Interestingly, indigo imparts a sea green color when just ground and mixed with water, and a rich indigo color when mixed with ash and allowed to ferment.


Then we had a delicious lunch of chicken laap, seaweed soup, and bamboo salad. We were in the class with a French teacher who lives on the little-known French island of Reunión and an American attorney who is a policy advocate who protested the war in the 60s and will be at the march on the 21st, so we talked about American politics the whole time. Poor French guy, but he’s a social justice-oriented person, so he seemed pretty happy to listen. And it’s always nice to show people who aren’t from the US that we weren’t all duped into voting for a dim-witted fascist egomaniac and that many of us are just as outraged and dumbfounded as everyone else in the world.

Deep breath.

In the afternoon, we started weaving! We started by spinning a skein of silk onto bamboo spools. Then we sat at a loom, and under the close supervision of master weavers, wove placemats! I chose a simple geometric motif, and Ted chose a Naga motif. Nagas are mythological water serpents that are represented in a lot of regional folk tales and legends.


 The hard part, which is designing the pattern and laying out a template using 720 vertical strings and a varying number of horizontal strings tied into circles, was done for us and takes years to learn. The process for weaving patterns is so cool, but hard to describe, so check out our Instagram for a video of Ted doing it.

After we got back to town, we ate for the fourth time at our favorite noodle place (the proprietor laughed at us each time we entered), then headed to our hotel for the night.

SE Asia Days 11-12: Travel to Luang Prabang

Jan. 5th, 2017

We woke up, ate hotel breakfast, and packed up to ride to the airport. I was feeling nauseated today (again about a day behind Ted), so we didn’t spend any time exploring Pakse. We did stop by Ted’s Italian restaurant to see if they were open for another plate of bolognese, but they weren’t.

When we got to the airport, we packed up the bikes, checked them in, and sat around for a long time. Then we had two uneventful flights and landed in Luang Prabang just after sunset. As we approached Luang Prabang by plane, the scenery became stunning. Rolling green mountains with rivers running through them and small villages dotted throughout. Our bikes made it through to Luang Prabang unharmed, and we put them together efficiently as many people gathered around to watch in amazement. We’ve got a really good system. We’ve each adopted our own responsibilities, and we can unpack and assemble our bikes and pack our bags without saying a word to each other and without any idle time (from Ted: although I haven’t quite figured out how to get the seats at the correct angle without testing them, so they were a little uncomfortably . . . up for the ride into town).

 Then we set off for our hotel in Luang Prabang, just 6k from the airport. It’s so much fun to ride our bikes to and from the airport. It feels so efficient: We were able to leave before the vast majority of people on our flight were able to arrange a more expensive airport transfer.

It started sprinkling on our ride, which sort of added to the charm of this gorgeous city we were cycling into. At night, many streets are lined with twinkle lights and paper lanterns, people are wandering by foot and bike through the sinuous streets and alleys, and the beautiful Lao French colonial architecture is striking despite the darkness. And oh my goodness, this city is bursting with tourists – very different from anything we saw in southern Laos.

We got to the adorable Khemkong View hotel on the Mekong, and checked in to a tiny room with a French flair. We immediately went out to explore the city and find some food. I was feeling sick all day, but got my appetite back and had a specific craving for chicken vindaloo, so we went out in search of it. Ted found it on the menu at a very crowded restaurant. After we ordered, a couple from Northern California asked to share our table because it was so crowded. We had a nice conversation with them and were happy to have the company. Ted had a new, obliging audience for his soapbox speeches on the failure of democracy, the imminent fall of the republic, and the ills of gerrymandering. Real lighthearted stuff, but they were sympathetic.

Afterwards, we went to a gorgeous bar / restaurant called Tangor that we were told had delicious cocktails, and ordered what turned out to be delicious cocktails. I ordered a chocolatey espresso beverage and Ted ordered a mojito. We also got ceviche, a Laos interpretation that replaces cilantro with lemongrass. It was wonderful! The bar also looked like it was plucked out of Brooklyn. Most of the waitstaff were French men with handlebar moustaches and hipstery clothing. The owner is French, too. Again, a very different scene from southern Laos, but not unwelcome!

After this, we wandered the main street, Th Sakkarin, a bit. There weren’t a ton of people out thanks to the light sprinkle. Then to bed, but I struggled to fall asleep thanks to the espresso.

Jan. 6th, 2017

I heard a lot about the abundance of good chocolate croissants and quality coffee here in Luang Prabang, so we headed to Le Banneton cafe to get breakfast. Delicious, as expected! This is the first chocolate I’ve had since the Kit-Kat we got on the airplane over, which must be some kind of record for me. We then went to Wat Xieng Thong, a famous 450-year-old temple with many glass mosaics, to explore. Everything was gilded and intricately designed.

The craftsmanship puts into stark relief all of these slapdash modern buildings made of cheap materials we’re throwing up around urban areas in America. They’ll throw some cheap, plastic looking building up next to these beautiful brownstones in our neighborhood and it just makes you wonder why people don’t build things to last anymore.

Anyway, then we headed to one of the two bamboo bridges in town to cross over to a local village. It was an experience very much geared toward tourists who wanted a “taste of local life” or whatever, but we still enjoyed it despite its voyeuristic nature. It helps bring income to the village, so hopefully it’s more good than bad. And I kept telling myself that there are walking tours of our neighborhood in Brooklyn that essentially serve the same purpose, and they don’t bother me, so perhaps this doesn’t bother the people living in this village?

We came across some ladies weaving beautiful silk scarves about 300m in. Their workshop was in a stilted, open-air wooden structure on the Mekong — some enviable working conditions! Each weaver can complete three of the simpler scarves in a day. And this doesn’t include the time spent spinning and dying the silk thread with natural dyes. So much work goes into each hand-woven piece, and yet you’ll see people aggressively haggling for scarves at the market. Such a shame — these artists deserve every kip!

    We wandered around the village a bit more, then headed back to wander around Luang Prabang. As gorgeous as this city was at night, it’s triple gorgeous during the day. The architecture! The winding streets! The flora! It is paradise. We had heard that some self-proclaimed “experienced backpackers” think Luang Prabang is a little fake and overrun with tourists — like Lao Disneyland — but first of all, these vagabonds are also tourists so where do they get off being so judgmental, and second, there are Lao people living and working here so it’s a little insensitive and ignorant to call their lives fake. Whatever this city is, we love it all the same. And frankly, I’m getting a little sick of the sanctimonious attitudes of a lot of so-called experienced backpackers.

We got a little hungry wandering the streets, so Ted suggested that we eat at this hole-in-the-wall noodle restaurant. Every time we’ve walked by, we’ve seen young, hip Chinese tourists eating here, which I take as a good sign. This place is easy to miss and has literally five things on the menu: Three types of noodle soup (beef, chicken, or pork) and two other types of soup. No prices. When we got our soup, we quickly realized that this was the best noodle soup we’ve had in the whole country, by a mile! As we sat in the restaurant, several western tourists passed by and were apparently put off by the (lack of a) menu because they didn’t stop in. But I wished I could convey to them somehow that they should eat here. It was so incredibly delicious. So if you’re ever in Luang Prabang and want authentic noodle soup, eat at Toutu Restaurant.

Next we got our very favorite beverage — a passion fruit smoothie — and climbed Phou Si, a small mountain/temple in the middle of town. There were incredible views in all directions at the top, and lots of people taking selfies. We went down on the other side, and saw a bunch of Buddhas covered in gold leaf, a cave, and an imprint of Buddha’s foot.

We then walked along the Nam Khan river and back towards the Th Sakkarin, and then stopped in at Chang Hotel to get some coffee and a delicious almond croissant for a snack. The pastry scene here is making life very nice.

After a little more wandering, which I could do for days here without any other agenda, we hopped on our bikes to go to Ted’s special request for dinner, a place called “Secret Pizza.” That’s right, more Italian food. I’ll allow it, though, because he acquiesces to all of my whims. And this place is pretty cool. An expat missed good pizza, so he built a brick oven and started making pizzas in his backyard for other expats, and word got out that they were good. Tourists slowly started trickling in, then trip advisor and lonely planet got wind of the place, and, well, it’s no longer a secret. It was phenomenal thin crust pizza in a beautiful setting, so it’s no wonder it is so popular despite the fact that it’s not walking distance from old town.

We then went to the night handicrafts and food market (and I got a piece of chocolate cake!!!), then we headed home and went to bed after a long, exhausting day. Half a day here, then off to Kuang Si Waterfall tomorrow!


SE Asia Day 8: Tad E Tu to Thateng Nua

January 2nd, 2017

Ride map.

We woke up before sunrise again, which was perfect because we wanted to get an early start. We ate yummy buffet breakfast (but was it yummy?? WAS IT? Cue horror film music), packed, and headed out. We thought we were at the top of the Plateau at this hotel, but we were wrong – 10 more miles to the top, and a strong headwind to combat on the way. We came across the Tad Fane waterfalls a few miles in, and also the Tad Fane resort, which we have a booking for in 2 nights. Only…it’s in the wrong place. You see,,, and google maps all think Tad Fane Resort is 27k down the Plateau from where we stood. We are doing a loop, so it is actually not possible for us to come back up here to stay. I don’t want to climb the plateau again, and we have to catch a flight the day after we were supposed to stay here, so it would be hard for us to cycle 40k in the morning compared to the 13k we expected. Here’s where it is compared to where the world thinks it is, and the white road down from Bachieng is where we’ll come from.

So we’re in disputes with to get free cancellation for this place. At any rate, it was gorgeous – set in the jungle and the restaurant overlooks a waterfall.

We moved along to climb to the top of the plateau. We saw five other cyclists! Two touring and three on day rides. Three were coming the opposite direction, and we were jealous of their luck with the wind.

At the top, we rewarded ourselves with lattes, and Ted complained about an upset stomach after we set off again. He blamed it on drinking coffee on an empty stomach. We made a close to 90 degree turn, and the wind seemed to turn with us (aka, still against us). We were finally going downhill, but pedaling hard against the wind!


Now for one of the top 10 most awkward (but also wonderful) experiences either of us has ever had. We stopped at what we thought was a restaurant to get noodle soup. It was a giant tent with lots of tables and chairs and people eating. A lot of restaurants here don’t have signs, and in our experience, the restaurants without signs have been the best ones. In retrospect, the tent should have told us it was a temporary situation, but we were hungry and not thinking, I guess.
Anyway, we roll up and people are staring at us, as they have at every restaurant we’ve gone to because we’re a couple westerners riding bikes around the Lao countryside. This is legitimately novel, so we’ve come to expect stares.

We sat down at a table, and a moment later, a gentleman who speaks very good English comes up to introduce himself and explains that we just sat down at a funeral celebration. Embarrassed, we apologize profusely, get up, and attempt to excuse ourselves, but he says, “no, please join us for lunch!” As awkward as it felt to stay, it felt even more awkward to refuse his invitation, so we sat back down.

Soon, a few children brought us out fish soup, Lao Laap, sticky rice, lettuce, clementines, ice, and water. Wow! We ate and talked to this kind man. He is a biology teacher at a teacher’s college in Pakse. He’s Ted’s age, and he taught himself English by reading books written in English and making use of the dictionary. Smart guy, and somehow he’s single!

The laap was mostly composed of offals, which are not fun to look at, but taste basically like the animal they came from. Anyway, after we got past the mental block of eating entrails and organs, the food was delicious! We tried to keep the conversation flowing, but we both just felt so embarrassed for imposing on a funeral celebration that we probably weren’t great conversationalists. When it was time to leave, our new friend brought us out a bag of snacks for the road! Everyone has been so incredibly kind on this trip, but this was just so far beyond.

The food seemed to accelerate Ted’s stomach issues, though, and the next 10k were rough for him. We got to a coffee resort, and Ted had to spend a lot of time in the restroom as I sipped a latte. Poor guy. It was only 3k to our guesthouse, so we got back on the road and have been hunkered down at a guesthouse for about 6 hours. Ted slept (and did some other things) and seems to be on the mend, but I seem to be following his path, just 12 hours delayed. The only culprit we can identify is that breakfast buffet this morning. It couldn’t be the offals, because Ted was feeling ill prior to that. Falls View resort man, nice rooms and a beautiful setting, but they HAVE to do something about their kitchen.


SE Asia Days 6-7: Champasak to Tad E Tu

December 31st, 2016 and January 1st, 2017

Ride map.

We got an early start today because we were anticipating a long climb (it ended up being about 3000 feet over 25 miles of continuous climbing) up the Bolaven plateau and we wanted plenty of time at these nice bungalows we booked for New Year’s Eve overlooking a waterfall called Tad E Tu. On our way to take the ferryback over the Mekong, we stopped at a guesthouse/restaurant called Champasak with Love and had a lovely “American Breakfast” with eggs, bread, bacon, and an Americano. We normally wouldn’t get American food here, but Laotian restaurants don’t usually serve coffee (unless it’s Nescafé instant coffee or this Dao instant coffee with milk powder and a ton of sugar mixed in – neither of which are very good), which we really like to have to start our day. Everything was great.

We continued to the ferry port and were directed onto a makeshift catamaran composed of two normal ferry boats (long, thin wooden boats that look similar to canoes) that were held together by a bunch of two-by-fours that formed a deck. At first glance, this did not appear to be seaworthy, but we figured it must work if they boarded us. We took off, then quickly turned back around to pick up another passenger. Another 40 passengers, really: We picked up a man bringing ducks and chickens to the market on the other side of the river. Once they boarded, we took off, and the gentleman with the poultry began to negotiate a barter for his transfer. They landed on two bundles of ducks (about 4 ducks a bundle?) which seemed like a hefty price given that we paid only $2.50 per person.

I was fascinated by this funny boat and impressed by the skill with which our captain drove it. We made it across to Don Muang and started our ride.

After about 5k of pothole-filled road, we got back on the very nicely paved highway 13 and continued toward Pakse, the regional capital. The traffic really picked up on this stretch of 13, getting progressively heavier as we neared town. There was also a lot of dust from roadwork and pollution from all of the traffic (no emissions restrictions here, and lots of old cars, motorbikes, and trucks), so we used our Buffs as face masks and chugged along.

We stopped to pee at a gas station before our turn and saw this funny dog awkwardly napping.

We quickly made it to our turnoff after our break. We had hopes that traffic would die down a bit, but it did not. They are extending this road from two to four lanes, but for now, there’s just a dirt road off to each side in various stages of construction, and with a lot of heavy machinery kicking up dust and also a lot of dump truck traffic carrying dirt and rocks. This along with a ton of tourism traffic and industrial traffic (there are large coffee, bottled water, furniture, etc. factories up this road) made for a not so pleasant ride. Plus, we were now climbing the plateau at a whopping 7-8 miles an hour, which extended the unpleasantness. We experimented with riding on the dirt side road, but it was bumpy and had a lot of gaps, so we took our chances on the actual road.

The traffic seemed to come in waves and moved in a predictable fashion: A huge, slow truck would hold up a line of fancy SUVs and buses filled with tourists, who would each be trying to pass each other and the massive truck, but once these lines of traffic passed, it would be relatively calm for a couple minutes, maybe just a few motorbikes. The scariest bits were when this was happening on our side of the road and the other side of the road, which led to some close passes. Most people slowed down for us, though. The newish minibuses and the coach buses did not slow down at all, though.
We came across this coffee shop / restaurant called Bachieng café, and I was eager for a break from the traffic, so we stopped. They have these beautiful rotted wood tables and benches, fancy landscaping, and a man-made waterfall outside – definitely a place to attract tourists. We ordered some delicious noodle soup and excellent coffee and sat by the waterfall. This place was filled with Chinese tourists in fancy Lexus and Toyota SUVs. I imagine people must be really confused about why we are biking around, getting covered in sweat and dirt, when there are so many perfectly good cars around. Meanwhile, I wonder what’s the point of driving from tourist attraction to tourist attraction when all of the good stuff is in between! Well, except for the traffic.

Anyway, we lingered here for a while, then headed out to keep climbing the plateau. It was fun to watch and feel the climate and scenery subtly change. We entered a banana growing region and got some roadside bananas, then entered the coffee growing region and were treated to some gorgeous, sweeping views of the countryside. I don’t have any pictures, though, because the traffic was too thick to safely take them. It started gently raining, which was actually quite nice as it settled the dust and pollution.

The schools here look so much like the schools in Zambia:

After a bit more chugging, we made it to our home for the night, the Falls View Resort. Sounds and looks fancy, but a room with breakfast included is $50/night, which is pricey for the region, but less than our rent in Brooklyn, so we figured we could splurge for New Years. After settling in, we ventured down to the bottom of the falls and decided that we should probably spend an extra night here in order to have enough time to swim. We had free cancellation on our next hotel, and we padded an extra day at a different waterfall that doesn’t appear to allow swimming, so we could make it work. Ted jumped in, but it wasn’t sunny and hot enough for me to overcome my wimpiness about being cold.


We headed back up, ate a genuinely terrible dinner (They failed to fully cook the kebabs, and I think they put a bunch of tree leaves in our soup? They weren’t chewable.), watched the hotel owner facilitate an awkward New Years party in Mandarin (95% of the hotel’s guests were Chinese), and went to bed early.

The next day, we had a lazy morning, eating a ton of delicious food at the breakfast buffet and reading. Then we took a walk through a coffee plantation abutting our hotel, headed down to swim at the falls, and headed up to the road to get some decent food (though the breakfast at the hotel was good, the lunch and dinner menu are filled with things like French fries and Thai food that cost 4x as much as good food at a local restaurant). We had delicious bowls of soup, then headed back to the bungalow so Ted could do some work.

SE Asia Day 5: Exploring Vat Phou and Champasak

December 30, 2016

Ride map.

We got a slow start this morning because all we really had to do was head to Vat Phou (an ancient temple) and get massages. Hard life.

We ate breakfast at our hotel and headed to Vat Phou, which was about 12k away. The ride was nice, and a lot of tourists rented bikes to ride to the temple, so we had company.

Vat Phou is a Khmer temple and complex  (built by the same Khmer kings who built the temples at the Angkor Wat complex) on a mountain and a UNESCO world heritage site. The structures that remain on the site date back to the 11th-13th century, but the site has had a temple on it since the 5th century. It’s situated at the base of Lingaparavata mountain (now called Phou Khao), so named because the top is shaped like a linga, which is one of the forms the Hindu god Shiva takes. Thus, the mountain is believed to be sacred. There’s a constant stream of water coming down from the mountain, which is also believed to be sacred.

As you approach the temple, there are two large reflecting pools with cows grazing around them, then you get to two symmetrical buildings, the function of which is unknown.

Then starts the gorgeous climb up to the temple:


The temple has not been restored, but there’s been a modern Buddha added, as well as a tin roof to protect it. Along with the remaining structures, there are cool carvings of elephants and a crocodile in boulders. The crocodile carving is believed to have been the site of an annual human sacrifice (the crocodile is the size and shape of a human lying upside down). The view of the surrounding area, which was the ancient city of Shrestapura, is pretty cool, especially when you think about how it must have looked as a highly populated city.

We headed back down to explore one of the lower structures, and angered a little green snake.



We then headed back towards town and ate at a nice little restaurant at a lovely guesthouse that doesn’t seem to have any guests. It’s a little out of town, but if you come to Champasak, you should stay at the Khaimkhong guesthouse. The food was great, staff was kind, and the grounds were beautiful.

We headed back to town, walked around to look at the cool French colonial architecture and brightly colored houses, then got massages at the Champasak Spa, which were wonderful. Then we headed to dinner and then to a show at the Champasak Shadow Puppet Theater.

Shadow puppetry is an ancient art form that a small group of artists and musicians are reviving in Champasak. The puppets themselves had been kept for some significant number of years by local buddhist monks (our host, a Frenchman transplant to Champasak, spoke good English, but he left a few gaps), before they were given to this group around 8 years ago.  There was a group of musicians playing Lao folk music (called Lum Si Phan Don), as well as puppeteers and voice actors.  The music was great, and the show was fun to watch. Our host explained the story (an adaptation of the Ramayana) in English so we could follow along pretty well. The puppeteers popped out at the end to show us how the puppets look and how they operate them.

Such a cool experience! Off to the Bolaven Plateau next, land of coffee plantations and waterfalls.

SE Asia Day 3: Bus to Laos and the best guesthouse on the planet

December 28th, 2016

We woke up early (I’m getting up naturally at the crack of dawn every day when I normally struggle to roll out of bed by 8am) and ate free hotel breakfast before heading to the bus station. There were six other travelers on our bus: two Aussies, three Germans, and an American.  We were the only ones who didn’t smoke, including the driver!


We were a little nervous heading to the Cambodian side of the border because Ted was holding our passports in a waist pouch as we explored Angkor Wat and he sweat right through my Cambodia exit form. But turns out that if you’re willing to pay $2 for expedited service (i.e., bribe the border agents) all your problems go away.

We used Asia Van Transfer to get from Siem Reap to Nakasong, and we mostly recommend it. We had three drivers by the end of the day, and all drove fast and crazy. We had all of these unexpected bus changes, and the last bus we were supposed to use broke down on its way to pick us up from the Laos border, which made us over an hour late getting in, which meant we missed our ride to our guesthouse 20k away, so we had to pay for a ride (it was after dark and we didn’t have Internet so we didn’t know how to get there by bike). Ted bought a sim card as soon as we got into town so we could call the guesthouse, but it turns out that his phone only took micro-sim cards.

We ended up cutting down the sim card with leatherman scissors, using a cell phone flashlight while in the back of the van heading to our guesthouse. We got it down to the correct size and called up the guesthouse, and we were dismayed to learn that our host, a lovely Chinese-Canadian woman named Mali, had waited for us for an hour and a half!

Anyway, the rest of this post is going to be about Mali and her husband Athalo because they’re two truly wonderful people who brightened our trip. Mali is a gregarious bundle of joy who moved to Canada from China 37 years ago with a sixth grade education, phenomenal cooking skills, zero English language skills, and an insane work ethic. At some point in Canada, she met her husband, Athalo, a quiet, kind Laotian man who also immigrated to Canada. Carp, Ontario, to be exact. They got married, had 9 kids (7 boys and 2 girls), put them all through college, and now spend 6 months in Canada and 6 months in Laos every year in their retirement. Athalo inherited some land right on the Mekong from his father in the early aughts, and they decided to tear down the dilapidated wooden home in which Athalo grew up and build a small guesthouse on the land. Just 4-5 rooms to occasionally rent out to have some extra income while in Laos. But they don’t really need the money, so Mali reserves the right to send away any snotty people because, she says, her value and happiness are worth more than what they can pay her. If someone makes a booking online she can’t send them away, but she refuses to cook for people she doesn’t like. actually asked Athalo why they don’t say breakfast is included on their page, and he responded that Mali wants to be able to decide whether people are worth cooking for. Ha! We’re happy to report that she cooked us both breakfast and dinner, so we made the cut. Anyway, Athalo designed the guesthouse and one of their sons, an architect, drew up the plans, then they built this lovely guesthouse.

Mali and Athalo are very much in love, even after 35 or so years of marriage. Athalo’s calm energy perfectly balances out Mali’s brash gregariousness. She can ask him for something from across the compound and he will come running to do her bidding, with an adoring smile on his face.

Mali and Athalo now have three homes: two in Canada and this guesthouse. How did they do this, you ask? Hard work! The ultimate bootstraps story! Like I said, they didn’t have a fancy education, but Mali opened a restaurant in Carp and worked 20 hours a day for 13 years! Athalo did most of the child rearing and opened up his own business, too.

Mali is hilarious and full of wisdom. She shared so many great stories, so I’ll just recap our favorites here.

1. Mali buys a private island for $30,000 with less than $1,000 in her bank account. Mali is the type of person who decides she wants something and makes it happen. Sometime in the 80s, she saw an ad for a private island for sale in the middle of a river in Ontario, so she decided to go check it out. The island was small, was only accessible by boat, and had a small cottage with electricity. The moment she stepped foot on the island, she knew it was hers. The man selling the house was eager to get rid of it, so he was willing to sell for $30,000. Problem was, she didn’t have any money, not even $1,000 in the bank. But she wanted to secure the place, so she wrote out a check for $1,000 and asked if he would accept this as a down payment. He agreed, and Mali ran back home to call the bank manager, who happened to be her friend, and asked him to cover the check until she had the money. He agreed! In order to afford the island, she’d have to get a mortgage. She needed a 25% down payment because it was a second home, plus all of the fees associated with buying a place – at the end of the day, she needed $10,000 cash. So she worked crazy hours at her restaurant, then moonlighted at a fancier restaurant, and made $10,000 in one month. In the 80s! And just like that, she had an island. The island is now valued at over $200,000, but no one can convince her to sell (people have tried).

2. Athalo is the boss; Mali’s just an assistant. While we ate some phenomenal plates of Lao Laap Mali made, she sat down to chat. She told us that her husband was the boss, and she was the assistant. From what we saw of Mali and Athalo’s relationship, this did not appear to be the case, but she explained that in a business, the assistant takes care of all of the little problems, and when a problem is too big for the assistant to handle, she brings it to the boss. She said that in 35 years of marriage, there has never been a big problem. Ha! I think you had to be there to appreciate Mali’s delivery. Take it from me, it was hilarious.

3. Mali’s words of wisdom:

  • Mali told her kids that if they wake up and don’t want to go to work every day for two weeks straight, they should quit their jobs and look for something else because it’s not fair to yourself or your employer to do a job you don’t love. She said she has always worked very hard — she’ll out-work anyone — because she has always loved her jobs.
  • “You take the good and the bad, and you make lemonade. And then you sell it, and you make money.”
  • When each of her kids got married, Mali gave them a down payment for a house for admittedly selfish reasons. She said that the best way to get your kids out of your house and to have them leave you alone and be self-sufficient is to help them buy a house because then they have to get a job to make the mortgage payments.

We wish we could have stayed for another day or two, but we have hotels and flights booked and things to do! Mali told us we were doing “buffet style” travel, where we stop over at different places and get a small taste of many things, “but you don’t even know what you’re tasting!” She’s right, and I wish we had unlimited time, but if anyone reading this comes to the 4,000 islands region of Laos, you should skip the touristy party islands and come straight to Mali’s guesthouse, preferably while she’s here between December and May, and plan to stay a while to explore the island of Don Khong. Learn from our mistake!

In any case, it may seem odd that I spent almost this entire post writing about two people that we met, but that’s half the reason we travel. The world is a big and crazy place full of injustice and inequality, but outside of these systemic problems, the people who make up the world are good and kind. And it’s important to keep that in mind.

Besides, this blog is also our personal journal, and we definitely don’t want to forget Mali.

SE Asia Days 0-1: Travel day + staving off jet lag

Day 0: Travel day
Ted checked in for our flight online and we had a series of serendipitous events (skipping the line because Ted checked in early; K-9 team so we didn’t have to use the scanner, take off shoes, or take out laptops at security; a security line opening up right as we got in line) which we needed because a bunch of frustrating things also happened (second flight had a last-minute airline switch which meant we couldn’t check in for it and they had trouble checking our bags all the way through, Ted said the word “bicycle” and the airline employee checking us in had a coniption about how our bags were oversized and needed a box even though they were well under the size and weight restrictions, our bike locks in our carry on luggage were considered possible weapons by the TSA so Ted had to go back to the counter to check them and come back through security). But we made it with time to spare.

Our flight (on a cool double-decker plane) took us through Seoul, SK before heading to Siem Reap. The flight was 14 hours long and uneventful. Neither of us slept, which we both decided was a good thing for jet lag reasons, but which meant we were up for a good 30 hours straight. Ted worked for most of the flight while I read a book and watched several movies. The food was pretty good – they had bibimbap!
At the Incheon airport in South Korea there was some confusion at the transfer security station about why we didn’t have boarding passes yet, but they eventually let us through. Then it inexplicably took ~20 minutes to print our boarding passes at the gate, and we never really relaxed until we had them in hand. But we eventually got those too, and boarded a 5-hour flight to Cambodia. We both slept a bit on this flight, although every time Ted fell asleep, a flight attendant came by to wake him up for something. 

Which brings us to the Siem Reap airport, where we anxiously waited for our three checked bags (after the airline employee struggled to check them through, we were skeptical they’d be there). They all arrived, and our Bromptons did not suffer any damage! So it seems like all you have to do is put your Brompton in an IKEA Dimpa bag with some light foam around the sensitive parts, have the airline put a “Fragile” tag on it, and they can travel halfway across the world without a scratch!

Our hotel sent a tuk tuk to pick us up, which was a lovely way to get into town. We arrived Christmas night and apparently some Cambodians party pretty hard on Christmas, so there was lots of merrymaking to observe. Ted instantly got nostalgic for Zambia due to the smell of the town, which I pointed out to him was the smell of burning plastic. We were exhausted, so we basically collapsed into bed at the beautiful Bopha Pollen guesthouse (which I would highly recommend if you can get a good rate like we did from 


Day 1: Angkor National Museum and Wat Thmei

We decided to take it easy today to recuperate from traveling (neither of us have ever traveled this far and we were both a little nervous about jet lag). We woke up and got free breakfast from our amazing hotel, then set out for a walk to the Angkor National Museum. There are a few good museums in Siem Reap (land mine museum, war museum, this Angkor museum), and we decided to come to this one to give ourselves some context for our trip to Angkor Wat tomorrow. The museum was lovely and we learned some helpful things about the great Khmer kings, the history of the Angkor temples, and the deities that were the focus of the Angkor carvings. 

We then ventured to the Peace Café, an undeniably western vegetarian restaurant / community yoga space that came highly recommended by a coworker. This place had a beautiful setting with lots of shade trees and comfy chairs. We got some delicious curry dishes, a smoothie, and coffee, all of which were super. 


Then we headed to Wat Thmei, which is a temple and memorial for the approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population that was killed during the Khmer Rouge regime in the 70s. The signs said that between 8,000 and 10,000 people were killed at this very site. 

Pol Pot never had to face justice for his crimes. Just like America never had to face justice for the millions of civilians we killed in this region of the world (not to mention the fact that we likely gave covert support to the mass-murdering KR regime).

Moving on….
We then headed back to the hotel and took a dip in the pool because it was a hot day (and because pool), then headed out to the night market and dinner. The night market was a little too much for us, so we left pretty quickly, and we were so tired that we just stumbled into some random place for dinner and it was just okay. We went to bed pretty early because we needed to be ready for sunrise at Angkor Wat the next day!

BTW, Siem Reap is not very walker friendly. No sidewalks in most of the town and everyone drives a motorbike or rides in a tuk tuk so you’re sort of an outcast if you walk. The locals don’t even walk. Therefore, this smells like exhaust and burning plastic. 

San Juan Skyway: Day 4: Durango to Ridgway (6/5/13)

As many of you know, we have an exciting trip coming up in a few days. In an effort to get you in the habit of checking our blog, we dug up an old, dusty notebook from 2013 and typed out journal entries from our four-day bike trip around the gorgeous San Juan Skyway in Colorado.

We woke up early to eat breakfast before catching the train. There was a super delicious bagel place next to the train station and we got fresh baked bagel sandwiches. Delicious.


We got on the platform and took our bikes to the cargo hold. One of the conductors was really into biking (biked the Iron Horse, a race from Durango to Silverton where you try to beat the narrow gauge train, several times), so he was super helpful with our bikes. We got on the train and sat in the open car next to a sweet couple from Oakland. They were on an old person traveling tour called Road Scholars (they seemed super out of place). The people on our other side were from Louisville and on vacation with their kids. Both sets of people were very interested in our bike trip. The train went through the Durango suburbs, then some fields, then went up through the gorgeous canyon that’s only accessible by train. There is a hydro-electric plant and a guesthouse/ziplining situation that are only accessible by the train. We also passed a place called Needleton with a few vacation homes that I believe are also only accessible by the train. When we were passing through the fields part of a journey, there was a guy in very fancy biking clothes with several panniers as well as an extra wheel with more panniers who was actually riding faster than the train! No helmet, though. 😦


The ride up the canyon was absolutely spectacular. Took so many pictures. Just breathtakingly gorgeous. Apparently there was a recent rock slide that trapped the train in Silverton for the night and they had to bus 500 people back.


We got off the train in Silverton, which is an absolutely gorgeous old west-y town surrounded by mountains with old west architecture and people. Someone recommended we go to Avalanche Café and Brewery, but they were closed. They recommended that we go to Mattie and Maude’s Café. We had frito pie, smothered cheeseburger on fry bread, and a bowl of potato, bacon, and cheese soup. The lady who worked there (Lori) was super friendly and very worried about our climb up the pass, which in turn made me nervous about our ride.


We left around 2:10 to climb up our last pass. Teddy’s knee started hurting almost immediately, but he pushed through and made it to the top. The ride was gorgeous on the way up. When we got about one mile from the top, there was a CDOT guy waiting for us ringing a cowbell to encourage us. So cute!


The million-dollar highway was scary at times, due to a nonexistent shoulder and the road actually chipping off and falling off the massive cliff that we climbed past. I had to debate whether I was more likely to fall of the shoulder by staying close, or more likely to get hit by a car if I rode in the middle of the lane. I rode in the middle of the lane.


At the top, a friendly man took our picture and told us about a community science project studying pikas. Apparently there’s a massive colony on the pass.


We started our huge, gorgeous descent, but there was nowhere to stop to take pictures until we were past the prettiest part, but it was incredible.


We got to a sign that “Ouray is Switzerland of America” and I got off the road to take a photo, but almost got hit by a pickup truck, so I turned too quickly and fell. He didn’t even stop to ask if I was okay. At least I didn’t get hit, but that’s a super dangerous place to stop—totally blind corner!


Ouray is an adorable little mountain town that looks like a Swiss village. So cute. We decided to power through the last 10 miles to Ridgeway. It was a tough 10 miles because we were booking it and it wasn’t downhill like we thought and the wind was crazy, but we made it in 25 minutes. We checked into our hotel room, showered, and went out for surprisingly delicious Thai food! We then went straight to the hotel and basically passed out.

Days five and six were not on bikes; we did some backtracking to explore some hot springs and Telluride. On day five, we woke up around 8:30 and went to breakfast at Kate’s Diner. It was delicious. Then we went to Orvis hot springs. So. Good. Gorgeous natural springs, not too crowded. It was an oasis! We ended up spending the whole day there, with a brief interlude to go to Ouray Brewery for lunch and beer then Mouse’s Chocolates for ice cream and chocolate.

They had free tea at the hot springs from Montana Tea and Spice Trading – so delicious! My favorites were the Night on Glacier Bay, Huckleberry something, and something about early light. The springs were more crowded when we returned, but still amazing. We sat in the cold pool (89 degrees) for a bit to escape the 102 degree pool. There was also a nice waterfall area with a freezing cold waterfall that we monopolized for a bit before heading to the 110-degree lobster pool. It was so hot that I couldn’t even fully get in, but Teddy did. After trying another pool, we headed for Telluride, settled into our hotel, then had wings and Detroit Square Pizza at Brown Dog Pizza. We went for a quick hike in Telluride, got lunch, then drove home to Denver. This was such a lovely trip! This part of Colorado is so lush and relatively undeveloped – very different from the front range.