Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Don't Skip Leg Day: Hiking the White Mountains of New Hampshire

Mt. Lincoln summit. 5089 feet.

I never fathomed that I might not be able to handle a hike physically. Any hike. Anywhere. Never batted an eye or thought twice. A quick stretch. I'm good. I'm fit. It's just walking uphill, right? Ha. Dumbass. While hiking the Franconia Ridge Loop trail, I learned my mind is far younger than my body. It's a three-peak climb, that's listed as 9-miles the same way that Kevin Durant is listed at 6'9. It might say that in a program, but dude is 7-feet. This hike feels more like 11-12 miles. National Geographic considers the trail through the White Mountains of New Hampshire one of the 10 best in the world! The view is spectacular and if you're into the outdoors, it's a must-do in the New England area. Just be prepared.

Fueling up with 3-lb lobsters at Brown's Lobster Pound in Seabrook, NH. This girl is savage.

Warm-up hike about 30-minutes away from North Conway, NH. Nice waterfall lookout. This was a novice hike that anyone can do with moments of challenge

The summit sign at Mount Lincoln. There are an estimated 700 hikers a day on this beast during the busy season. There are certainly times on the trail where people are right behind you. When leisurely hiking, go at your own pace and don't worry about all the hikers around you. I didn't realize it, but I pushed myself harder than I thought, and paid the price around 4500-feet up when I started cramping right before we reached the summit. We sat for a quick packed-lunch, high in potassium to kill the cramps, but it didn't matter. My legs slowly transformed into wood. I could hardly bend my legs. I was walking like a pirate with two peg legs who had to poop. Yeah, picture that.
From Mt. Lincoln. That's Mt. Lafayette behind us.
Between Mt. Lincoln and Mt. Lafayette, is the 4760-foot Little Haystack along the rocky Franconia Ridge. It's a breathtaking view that surrounds you on both sides. You feel like you're Rocky training in Siberia. The weather fluctuates dramatically up here, so do your recon before heading out. So you see the peak way off in the distance we're walking towards? That's Mt. Lafayette at 5260-feet. That's where we need to go. And my legs are still cramping like LeBron James in the 2014 NBA Finals. Some passerby even gave me some pickles and pickle juice, which helps with cramping. Unfortunately, I needed to be in a Vlasic factory to eat my way out of this pickle. #PUNS!

After myriad stops, bless my patient crew, we finally reached the Mt. Lafayette summit. One of the keys to helping my cramps was keeping my legs warm with runner's leggings. Okay fine. Tights. I was basically wearing tights. That and drinking everyone else's water supply was great!
We probably would've made it here about an hour earlier without my legs cramping. Stupid legs.
All worth it.
We were not alone at the top.
The trek down lasted another 2+ miles. By now, my cramps had subsided and I was just sore AF. The trail is compiled of various terrain. While stunning, the unevenness takes its toll on your lower body.

All in all, the hike was spectacular - if not long. I would've been stoked if it was a couple miles shorter. It's a tough hike, but I feel like anyone can do it if they take their time. My issue was not taking care of my body enough - a few drinks the night before, poor sleep, lack of stretching, not enough rest stops - but then again, maybe it's just me. I'd always wondered what it would be like to be a pirate.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Bangkok Has Him: New Year in Thailand 2017

A true Bangkok night market.

Darn you, Leonardo DiCaprio. Ever since I saw "The Beach" in theaters in 2000 (a poor decision as I didn't really care for that movie. Wasn't Leo's character super petulant?), beaches in Thailand have held a near-mythical status in my mind. As a beach aficionado, I knew one day I'd have to make it out there. 

That day would come New Year's Eve 2017. Before we explore the beaches, we must layover in Bangkok to learn if the city's Red Light District is really that wild; and discover how close this Mr. Chow can get to "The Hangover 2" status, just without Bradley Cooper, illicit drugs, and with a fiancee. Thanks for passing on the invite, Brad. Here's my photo exploration of BKK:

Wat Pho: one of the many Buddhist temples of Bangkok. My personal fave.
If y'all saw my Instagram GoPro video, you know I'm all about the tuk-tuk. Thailand's tiny scooter. Here's video: 
So there's a ton of buddhist temples in Bangkok. This was just one of a few at Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun), which is situated on the Chaopraya River on the western part of town.
Why is this Buddha smiling...
Cuz dude is chilling! This is Wat Pho, known as the Temple with the Reclining Buddha. The Reclining Buddha is 150 feet long, and was undergoing a bit of a pedicure when we were there, as they were doing construction on his sandaled feet. This was my fave of the temples. 
The famous Thai massages. In case you're wondering, normal masseuses don't dress like that.

The entrance to the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It was packed more than usual because locals dressed in full black garb were paying their respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, or Rama IX. The highly-revered king passed away in October 2016 after ruling since 1946. The country is mourning his passing for a full calendar year. There was a huge military presence and we had to go through security detectors at multiple staging areas. Meanwhile, inside the walls, there are many different, extravagant temples. The Emerald Buddha is actually quite small and not really worth hopping in line to go see.
So much good street food, including noodle soup bowls that cost around $1.50 US. I love this girl!
If you get a Thai massage - which you will if you go - you should go to Health Land. A legit 2-hour massage will cost you around $15US, includes massaging your entire body including your fingers, and the happy ending... is a delicious Thai iced tea.
Street food everywhere... of almost anything.
Tuk-tuk signal.
Thai Ronald McDonald doing the wai greeting, essentially clasping your hands together and bowing.
The Damnoensaduak floating market about an hour outside of Bangkok. It's the most touristy but most popular floating market and highly recommend a visit. A distinctly Thai experience where you float through small canals and vendors offer goods and food all around you. I imagine the smaller ones hawk less product (there were multiple paintings of Heath Ledger's Joker as Ronald McDonald). We ate so much fresh, delicious, cheap food - a noodle soup for $1.50, mangosteen (a fruit I'd never heard of before), chicken kebabs, seafood pad Thai, mango sticky rice. Everything is a negotiation and saving 10bht here and there, while absurdly cheap, will also get you an extra meal later if you don't bring enough cash.
Another shot of the floating market. To the left are vendors, markets, restaurants. On the right are the same but unopened. If you go, you need to go early because the canals will fill with boats very quickly.
Like such. If you want to see video of the floating market, check my instagram video:
Back in Sukhumvit, we ate multiple meals at Terminal 21, a huge mall with an incredible international, multi-level food court. This coconut ice cream was consumed often, cost around $.80US!

Muay (rhymes with "boy") Thai boxing. Another must. In the upper deck of Rajadamnern Stadium, there were a ton of locals betting on the fights. So tempting to join! I witnessed a KO. That should be posted on Instagram shortly.

He's no Sagat. #StreetFighter2ReferencesForTheWin
Night-time tuk-tuk to...
Patpong, aka the red light district. This night market features some shopping but it's overshadowed of course by all the strip club peddlers and promoters who mercilessly try to get you to go into their establishments. Guys follow you for a little while showing you a menu of baffling terms - doesn't matter if your fiancee is holding your hand - they peddle hard.
 Some of the establishment names in Patpong were too graphic for posting, so this innocuous picture is what you get. When you walk by some of the open doors of these clubs, you can see some of the young women being manipulated by the sex industry and its depressing. The thought of how some of these women ended up where they are is tremendously sad. Their typical clientele is probably men over 50 when they might be younger than 20. That said, a friend basically told us this place was going to be the scourge of humanity and it wasn't as bad as expected, but that's also very likely because we did go inside any place.
Spel chek is for loosers.
The colorful night market gave you a feel for how many locals and tourists spend weekend nights. Several bars next to all the tented vendors, incredible food at low rates. Not all was appetizing...
These larvae didn't inspire hunger...
Nor these crickets.
Mindy enjoyed getting her brows done for pennies on the dollar. The results, sadly, reflected the cost. This is actually a transgender man working on her. Never would've guessed!
Sunset on Bangkok.

NEXT: Island life

Rock Climbing in Paradise: Krabi, Thailand

I'm actually not hanging loose but belayed to a cliff.
Picture celebrating New Year's Eve on a Thai beach: a few revelers on a remote beach lighting lanterns and watching them fly into the dark night. That's what we wanted, so we went out to Krabi, one of the less touristy Thai islands. Like all the Thai islands, it's a gorgeous backdrop with white sand beaches and is a very doable boat ride to other islands for exploration. Plus, it's known for tremendous rock climbing for all skill levels, and we had some friends who highly recommended it. Plus, as another friend mentioned, when you're out there, they all kind of look the same, so it doesn't matter where you spend most of your time - it will still be breathtaking.

We spent 5.5 days in Krabi, including New Year's Eve, and hopped to other islands like Ko Phi Phi. Krabi is the capital of southern Thailand's Krabi province. Total resort town, just not as developed as Phuket and Ko Phi Phi. Here's the Krabi, pronounced "kruh-bee" not "crabby," breakdown:

West Railay Beach with long-tail boats ready for action. 

Railay Beach to the east. The difference between low tide and high tide is significant.

Near Railay Beach, there are really only two streets. Bird's eye view of some restaurants from a 2nd-story bar.

We did family style at every local Thai restaurant we ate at so that we could maximize our dishes. Fresh seafood off the grill. It was good, but looked better. Mangrove Restaurant was our favorite, Everything was cheap, but be prepared to wait. Thai island time is on another level of slow.

Can't sleep because of jet lag and wake up early, you get the beach to yourself. In the afternoon, this would be all under water. Notice how far from shore the long-tail boats are anchored.

In honor of the late king, no lanterns were allowed to be lit or flown on the island (assuming the country, as well), so we ended up at our hotel, the Sand Sea Resort's New Year celebration, which included an impressive all-you-can-eat feast of world cuisine. The show was pretty touristy, but that said - they had the most impressive fire dancers I've ever seen. One of the guys had to be no older than 13, but they were manipulating fire like that one lame X-Men character that can manipulate fire. Except these guys weren't lame.

Fire party

We hopped on stage for the party. There was a light steady rain that added to the island atmosphere. However, because of the rain and too many people jumping on stage, the stage started to sink into the beach and everyone was told to get off.

In an effort to find lanterns, we walked the island but there were none out of reverence for the late king. The 2017 NYE squad.

Switched to a less expensive hotel, the Avatar Railay, which depending on the time you choose to travel, is as low as $52/night. I'd recommend as a cheap hotel option.

The Avatar Railay still. It's less than a 5-minute walk from the main strip on Railay Beach.

Rock climbing is a must in Krabi. Climbers of all skill-sets can do this. You'll end up using muscles you never realized you had. There are several outfitters and we went with the appropriately-titled Krabi Rock Climbing. We went on an all-day tour that took us on 4 climbs, a hike and rappel, and lunch was included. If  4 climbs doesn't sound like its enough, don't worry - it's plenty. This climb was near Pranang Cave, which is famous for having a cave full of penises. I took some GoPro footage but then lost the camera, so y'all can Google it. It's a shrine to fertility. I digress.
Mindy around 60% up the cliff. This was the warm-up.

On the 2nd jump, I posted up on a ledge to shoot video of Mindy and Pete climbing. Love this shot of my bae.
Let's just say Pete was relieved to make it to the top!

This was a smaller cliff that was all about form. This route can crush your forearms quickly.

On my final climb, which was about 90-feet, I stopped to take a peak at a rainbow off in the distance. The guides estimated the climb was a 5.9, but I think he was just trying to make us feel better. It was more like a 5.7 with areas that are 5.8.

We ate dinner at Ao Naang on Krabi, which is a 15-minute ferry ride away from Railay Beach. This is like the Waikiki of Krabi - open markets, shops, cars (there are no cars on Railay), lady boys... you know, Real Thailand! Ate dinner at a hole in the wall. We ordered around 8 dishes on a 7-item menu.
This was the noodle soup with fish ball at 50bht, which is less than $1.50!

Look at all those fresh made noodles. At this same stand we ordered a banana Nutella rotee, aka Thai pancake. I've neglected to mention we ate about a zillion of these things things because they're about $1.15.

Oh and we also got some coconut ice cream. Someone was happy about that. By "someone," I mean "everyone."

'Til next time, Krabi.

Next: Ko Phi Phi and the surrounding islands