Southeast Asian Adventures: Thailand

Thailand & Angkor Wat in Cambodia have been on my bucket list for years now. I spent a good chunk of my adolescent years growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia and did an internship during college in Kuala Lumpur. I’m completely obsessed with Southeast Asian culture – the food, the rich history, the people, the weather, the energy is just all so ridiculously amazing. I’ve been blessed to live in many cities around the world – eight to be exact – and nowhere else in the world have I met such genuinely warm, hospitable, loving and generous people. Southeast Asia is just mesmerizing, and I’ve been dying to explore more of it.

I finally had the chance to experience Thailand & Cambodia last month and I’m so happy that my trip reaffirmed my love for the region. I was worried that Thailand would be too touristy and overrun by Full Moon party-seeking backpackers, but it truly did not disappoint. Sure, there are parts of Thailand that can be crazy touristy, but there are so many different experiences that you can choose to have in this diverse country. We began our trip in bustling Bangkok (which for some reason gets a bad rep for being too busy and overwhelming, but I loved it); continued onwards to the lush, beautiful, boho-chic Chiang Mai; spent three days soaking up the sea and sunshine in Krabi; and ended our trip taking in the unbelievably magical Angkor temples of Siem Reap.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the Thailand leg of the trip – Angkor Wat will have its own post soon!

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Sunset over magnificent Bangkok from Lebua at State Tower (of Hangover 2 fame) – definitely one of the most luxurious hotels I’ve ever stayed at! Beautiful balconies and views. 

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Day 1: Exploring Bangkok’s Chatuchak (weekend) market which was such a fun experience. We spent hours walking around the different souvenir, food, and clothing stalls, completely mesmerized by all the beautiful antiques and souvenirs. We had to buy an extra suitcase for all the souvenirs we bought home!

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The Grand Palace – a must see when in Bangkok. It was hot and incredibly crowded, but beautiful nonetheless. 

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Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha

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We stayed at the Khum Phaya Resort & Spa in Chiang Mai, which was a bit far from the old city and the tourist attractions but such a gorgeous sanctuary. I mean, just look at all that greenery. This was our breakfast view for four days straight. HEAVEN! 

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One of our most memorable experiences in Chiang Mai was a cooking class, where we made a delicious assortment of fresh Thai dishes. It was so much fun grinding up all the spices and making all the food from scratch!

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Another experience I will never forget: playing with elephants at Chai Lai Orchid, an elephant sanctuary that also serves as a social business with a mission to serve women at risk of human trafficking. A one-day trip included a three hour hike (more like a leisurely walk) through the jungle, bamboo rafting, feeding elephants, riding elephants bareback, and bathing a baby elephant in the river. Yes, it was as fun and surreal as it sounds. I was squealing the entire time. 

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Such a precious moment! 

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Meeting the grandmama of the sanctuary ❤ She was so sweet and gentle. 

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If you’re too scared to try street food in Thailand, you’re seriously missing out. We only had one ‘nice’ sit down meal on our whole trip, because we were determined to eat our way through all of Thailand’s amazing night markets and street food. They say the cheaper the food in Thailand, the more delicious and we found that to be so, so true! One of our FAVORITE meals was Anthony Bourdain-approved khao kha moo (pork leg & rice) from ‘The Cowgirl’ stand in Chiang Mai. We ordered two small plates first, which we devoured within seconds, and promptly ordered another large plate to share. YUM. Chicagoans, make sure to check out JJ Thai Street Food for a pretty solid version of khao kha moo. 

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Another favorite meal – khao soi from Khao Soi Khun Yai. Spicy & flavorful, we INHALED these little bowls of happiness.

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Ahhh, Krabi. Truly PARADISE. We stayed at the gorgeous Amari Vogue resort on Tubkaek Beach, which was so serene and utterly beautiful. The Andaman Sea is so still and warm as bathwater. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Every morning, we would venture out to Ao Nang to get our fill of local seafood – the best places to eat were the little halal street stalls with amazing chili crab, coconut shrimp curry, crab fried rice, garlic squid, and more. So delicious. 

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Venturing out on a snorkeling trip to the Hong islands. 

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Crystal clear perfection. 

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More snorkeling views on Hong Island.

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Quite possibly my favorite picture of my entire trip. They say that sunsets on Tubkaek Beach are pure magic. They weren’t wrong. 

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My husband and I had a moment of immense gratitude during this sunset. Hope to be back here with our kids some day. 

Authentic Thai Green Curry – straight from Chiang Mai!

Even though we’re in the thick of winter here in Chicago, my mind is still in beautiful Thailand. My husband and I recently got back from an incredible adventure to Thailand & Cambodia (blog post coming soon) and my heart still aches for the beautiful people, culture, and FOOD of Southeast Asia. It continues to be my absolute favorite part of the world.

One of our favorite memories of the trip was a half-day cooking class in Chiang Mai through Zabb-E-Lee Cooking School. We had such a great time exploring Thai markets, picking up fresh ingredients (still can’t get over the fragrance of kaffir lime), and then spending a few hours in a gorgeous outdoor, bohemian-style kitchen whipping up over six dishes. Such a delightful experience for a couple who loves to cook together.

I’m excited to share the recipe from our culinary adventures for Zabb-E-Lee’s chicken green curry. It was absolutely delicious and SO easy to make (well, once all the spices were ground up). I made it once at home too with store-bought green curry paste, and it was still pretty damn good. Obviously not as fragrant and fresh as the Chiang Mai version, but still a great recipe to quickly whip up when you’re craving some curry. Got my hubby hooked on Thai food now. Enjoy!

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Starting off the day picking fresh ingredients from the market with our awesome instructor

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Literally the cutest space for our cooking class. So boho chic! 

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So proud of our culinary creations!

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Silky smooth green curry. Nothing like that fresh taste of coconut cream and kaffir lime. 

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My version at home – more veggies, low fat coconut milk, and store bought green curry paste. Sorry for the poor picture quality – alas, not much natural lighting in Chicago right now. Still delicious, and SO easy to make! 

Thai Green Chicken Curry (recipe adapted from Zabb-E-Lee Cooking School)

Ingredients (serves 3-4) 

2 tbsp canola oil
6 chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 can coconut cream (highly recommend the Aroy-D brand)
1.5 tbsp green curry paste* (I used the Thai Kitchen brand, but see below for the recipe to make this from scratch)
1 eggplant, cut into squares
1 zucchini, cut into squares
Handful of green beans (per your liking)
2 tbsp sweet basil
3 leaves kaffir lime leaf, torn in half
1 tbsp pea eggplant (optional – I didn’t use this)
2 red chilis, sliced diagonally
2 tsp palm sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce

Recipe

Let the oil heat on a wok or non-stick pan on medium high. Stir the green curry paste for a few minutes until fragrant and the oil surfaces. Add the chicken thighs and stir until fully cooked. Gradually add the coconut milk and add in the eggplant, zucchini, and green beans. Cover and let simmer. When the veggies are cooked, add palm sugar, fish sauce, sweet basil, kaffir lime, and red chilis. THAT’S IT – you’re done! Enjoy with rice or noodles.

*Green Curry Paste (from Zabb-E-Lee’s cookbook)

Ingredients

10 fresh green chilies, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp galangal finely chopped
1 tbsp lemongrass, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 shallots, sliced
1 tsp kaffir lime ride, finely sliced
1 tbsp coriander roots, chopped
1 tsp fresh turmeric or turmeric powder
1 tsp shrimp paste (this is the secret sauce!)
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp roasted coriander seeds
1/2 tsp roasted cumin
1 tsp ginger

Directions

Combine coriander seeds, cumin, black pepper in a mortar, pound well. Add chilies and salt to the mixture and continue pounding. Add remaining ingredients (except for the shrimp paste) and pound again. After everything is smooth, add the shrimp paste and continue pounding until the mixture is a smooth paste.