Volunteering at The Dog Rescue Project at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand


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About the Program and the Park:

Anyone who knows me knows that my absolute favorite and most highly recommended tourist activity in the entire world is the Elephant Nature Park, located north of Chiang Mai, Thailand. I first visited the park in 2011, when its herd was slightly smaller and fewer tourists were coming through. Since that initial visit, which I wrote about HERE, a lot has changed! And almost all of it for the better. There’s more tourists in the park, which is great for animal welfare and has definitely helped this sanctuary to thrive by providing the money and volunteer hours needed to keep all of the animals happy, healthy and safe. There’s also a lot of new volunteer housing, new options for daily and over-night stays (including the Pamper-a-Pachyderm option, which wasn’t available before), and a whole lot more staff running around. One of the biggest (and my personal favorite!) changes, though, was the addition of the Dog Rescue Project, which houses over 420 rescued dogs.

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The Dog Rescue Project was started in 2011, just after my first visit to the park. The autumn of that year saw major flooding throughout Bangkok, which left many people and animals out of home and shelter. Many dogs were either separated from their owners, drowning, or otherwise in trouble, and The Elephant Nature Park took them in and created a new home for them at one of the far ends of the park. Today, the Dog Rescue Project has grown from the initial hundred-and-some dogs who were saved from the floods into the cohesive, 420+ dog program that it is today.  The dogs come from many different circumstances; some come from abusive owners, some from the streets, some are saved from the dog meat trade, and some have been poisoned. Regardless of their background, each dog is considered carefully before being placed into his or her new run, is provided with good medical care, and is given an opportunity to live a long, happy life, free from abuse and hunger.

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So, what’s it like to be a dog rescue volunteer?

I arrived at the park not really knowing what to expect this time around, but was integrated pretty quickly into the routine. The first few hours that I had at the park were spent with a combination of dog and elephant volunteers. My group and I were given a tour around the park, introduced to a few elephants, and learned a little bit more about how and why the animals had come to the park. After lunch, all of the new visitors to the park watched a video about the phajaan, or the centuries-old system for “crushing” an elephant’s spirit and molding it for human service. The phajaan is the backbone of the current elephant tourist trade, without which elephants cannot be ridden. Even though this blog post isn’t about the treatment of elephants or even about the elephant-y part of the park, I have to put it out there once again: if you’re ever traveling in Asia, please, please, please, please, please! don’t ride an elephant. Its cruel from start to finish, and only serves to hurt the gentle giants that most tourists love. On a lighter note, the elephants that have been lucky enough to find a home at the Elephant Nature Park get to live out the rest of their (hopefully long) lives eating fruit and freely roaming around, and will never be forced to perform for tourists ever again.

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But anyway, back to the dogs! After the video I was introduced to my fellow dog volunteers for the week, Izzy, Rebecca and A.J. We also met several longer-term volunteers, all of whom welcomed us and were thankfully very patient with us while we learned the ropes. Big thanks especially go out to Carolina, Ryan, Sabrina and Pedro for making us all feel welcome! We were thrown into the swing of things straight off the bat, which was a little bit overwhelming at first but became normal surprisingly quickly.

Our days went just about the same way for the entire week; we were up and at the main building for breakfast by 7:00 am, then met up at the dog clinic at 8am sharp to start the morning duties. The dog clinic is where dogs are taken if they get injured or get sick while living in their runs, with stay lengths varying between a few hours to longer than a month, depending on the problem. The clinic is divided up into a few different holding pens; in the back there’s the “Gallery,” which has both individual cages for dogs and a tiled, fenced-in area out back for the dogs to play and relieve themselves in when they aren’t being fed or given medicine in their cages. In the front there’s a row of cages with access to dirt-and-grass runs out the back. There’s also a number of cages that don’t have access to the outside, and these dogs were always our first priorities in the morning, as they needed to be walked.

Dr. Yan and Bear anxiously awaiting a walkie in one of the gallery cages!

Dr. Yan and Bear anxiously awaiting a walkie in one of the gallery cages!

When there were enough volunteers available we had people working together to make sure that the dogs were fed, watered and walked as efficiently as possible. Another volunteer would stay back to clean the cages and areas where dogs made messes so that the dogs could return back to comfy, clean cages. This could take anywhere from an hour to several hours, depending on how many volunteers we had on hand and how many elephant volunteers were able to come by to help us with the walking. After we finished walking, feeding and caring for the clinic dogs, we went out to the runs, which can hold anywhere from two dogs to thirty dogs, depending on the size of the run. Here we checked the dogs for ticks, bite wounds, gunky eyes and ears, for white gums and for unusual skinniness. Blood parasites from ticks are common in the tropics, they symptoms of which include weight loss and light-colored gums. Most of the dogs in the Gallery were being treated for the parasites, and treatment lasts for about a month.

De-ticking one of the more lovey dogs in one of the open runs.

De-ticking one of the more lovey dogs in one of the open runs.

At 11:30 or so we’d break for lunch, and when we came back at 1:00 the process starts all over again. We take all the dogs out for their walks, and when we’re finished with walks we could be doing any number of odd jobs; some days we’d go back to the runs to do more tick checks, some days we’d be put in charge of moving dogs from one run to another, and some days we’d just be bathing or playing with the dogs. There was never a lack of things to do, and by 4:30 pm, our clock-out time so to speak, we were always exhausted.

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Even though I was only there for a week, I found myself getting super attached to some of the pups and it was definitely hard not to take one home with me! The ENP offers a super-easy dog adoption program for people living in the US, Canada, the UK and Europe, and they’ll make all the arrangements for you to pick up your new best friend at your nearest airport. As fantastic of a home as the park is, some of these furry friends would definitely benefit from having a forever home with humans instead of a big pack of dogs.

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The Dogs:

And now the fun part! Let me introduce you to some of my absolute favorite furbabies that I got to know. Most of these dogs were in the clinic when I visited, but some were living at the dog volunteer house, and others were just dogs that made a significant impression on me when I met them in their runs.

Bear

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Bear is a super-sweetie staying in the clinic while I was at the park. He’s affectionate, walks well on a leash, and loves! giving hugs, even though he’s probably a little bit too big and heavy to be giving so many hugs. Some people might find his size and weight a little intimidating, especially when he jumps up to give his hugs, but I couldn’t love him or his hugs more! Bear also walks well on a leash and loves other dogs.

Ayo

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Ayo, the legless wonder dog, is another super-sweet dog. Ayo lives at the volunteer house, and was always amazingly affectionate and agile in spite of having three legs. For the most part she gets along well with other dogs, but apparently has been known to get jealous about her people. All-around very loving and energetic, and definitely very handsome!

Mocha

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Mocha is another dog who lived at the dog rescue house, and is probably the sweetest of them all. Affectionately nicknamed “princess” during our stay, she has an adorable habit of sitting with paws crossed and looking very regal. She also gets along well with other dogs, and is not skittish or afraid of people in the least. Total sweetheart!

Castor

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Castor was one of the dogs in the runs who absolutely stole my heart. He lived in the run closest to the dog volunteer house, and I always made a point of saying hello before I went home. Castor was just all-around super friendly, loving, and always excited to see people. Another gentle giant, he’s an absolute doll!

Nom

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Nom lived with Castor in Open Run 9, and was another treat. She loves attention and giving kisses, and would sometimes poke her head all the way through a hole in the chain-link just for a little petting. An absolutely gorgeous sweetheart and gets along well with other dogs!

Unfortunately, I can’t post about all 420+ dogs here, but I can say that most all of them are worth getting to know. Working with the dogs is an extremely emotional experience, and one that’s hard to forget (I even have ENP dog rescue dreams weekly!). Its hard when you fall in love with a dog or two or ten and then have to leave them, and its hard not knowing what their lives are going to be like once you leave. But its also extremely rewarding work, and even when you’re stressed or understaffed or emotionally drained, the dogs’ positive reactions always make it worth it in the end.

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How You Can Help

There’s a lot of different ways you can help! Obviously the most rewarding way would be to go and volunteer yourself. The dog rescue project does not get nearly as much attention as the elephant program, but the work is, in my opinion, more meaningful and allows you to directly connect with the animals in a way that you don’t get with the elephant program. But if you are planning a trip to the park and don’t know if the dog project is for you, or if you’re really, really set on doing the elephant program, you can still take an afternoon and come help out with the dogs, or even come just after lunch to help with walking. The dogs (and volunteers) need all the help they can get, and working with them is really underrated.

You can also opt to adopt one of the park dogs, and there’s no shortage of dogs for you to choose from! The park’s website has a small “meet the dogs” section, which you can find HERE. Obviously these are not all the dogs at the park, nor all the dogs available for adoption. Its a good place to start, though, so its worth a look!

If you want to help out but aren’t ready to book your ticket to Thailand just yet and don’t have the time, money or capability to take on a new fluffnugget in your life, you can also SPONSOR A DOG for 1,000-2,000 baht, or about $30USD. You could fund-raise with a charity or group to purchase an expensive item (listed below), or donate money to buy less expensive items. You can also donate any of the following (taken from THIS PAGE on the ENP website):

Expensive $$$ items:

  • Xray machine
  • Xray processor
  • Blood machine
  • Centrifuge
  • Surgery lights
  • Power generator

Mid range $$ items:

  • Cat scales (table top)
  • Various medical supplies
  • Durable dog kennels
  • Small fridge

Small $ items:

  • Medium size dog collars
  • Durable and long leashes
  • Durable toys
  • Stainless steel bowls (lg, med and small)
  • Towels
  • Blankets
  • Bleach
  • Iv extension sets
  • Soffban bandaging
  • Thermometers
  • Dog bedding
  • Dog blankets
  • Cat litter and litter trays

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The Low-Down:

Fees & Whats Included: One week’s stay at the Elephant Nature Park with the Dog Rescue Program costs ~$155USD, and includes accommodation, food & water, a t-shirt, a water bottle and a water bottle holder.

Accommodation: Accommodation is on-site in stilt houses. Each room can house 2-3 people, with double and single beds available. The beds all have mosquito netting and there are fans in the rooms.

Working hours per day: 8:00 am until 4:30 pm, with break for lunch.

Food: Buffet-style vegetarian food. Lots of options, very very tasty, but hard to eat gluten free, which was an issue for me. Celiacs beware of the fake meat, or “wheat meat,” as it is most definitely not GF.

Dogs on the dog rescue volunteer's porch.

Dogs on the dog rescue volunteer’s porch.

Bucket List Info:

Activity Type: Volunteering

Value for Money: High value! The food and accommodation alone is given at a pretty cheap price for traveling, the park is gorgeous and you really feel like you’re doing something. Its extremely rewarding and I can’t wait to do it again.

Suitable for: Able-bodied people who love animals and are willing to work hard.

Recommend: Definitely, to anyone and everyone who will listen! Its an amazing experience and the whole ENP set-up is legitimately one of the best non-government organizations (NGO) I’ve ever seen. An amazingly good cause that’s well-executed and extremely thorough in organization.

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Skydiving in Queenstown, New Zealand!


As some of you may already know, I’ve been dying to go skydiving for a very long time! Having done a lot of rock climbing, zip lining and other adventure and thrill-seeking activities in my past, I wanted my skydive to be beyond exceptional. So I went out of my way to save my first skydive for the adventure capital of the world: Queenstown, New Zealand. Luckily for me, the weather in Queenstown was fantastic when I was there in late August, so I had my pick of nice days to dive on.

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On the day that I ended up doing my dive, I didn’t actually intend on throwing myself out of an airplane at all. I was meant to be going on a relaxed tour of Milford Sound, but my tour company failed to pick me up. So instead I booked myself in for a skydive, with the takeoff time scheduled for one  hour after deciding I was going to be diving. Even though I wasn’t exactly mentally prepared for the dive, it worked out better for me in the long run; having more time to think about what I was about to do would arguably have sent my anxiety sky-high (pun a little bit intended), and I was almost guaranteed good weather conditions, so my dive would both be beautiful and safe.

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Tip: the best time to do a skydive is in the morning, as weather tends to change in the mid-to-late afternoon, which means your dive could be cancelled or delayed. Its also best to book your skydive early in your trip, if you’re traveling, so that you don’t hit a patch of bad weather and end up not getting to dive at all!

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The company that I jumped with is called Nzone, and their office was conveniently located on one of Queenstown’s main drags, Shotover Street. I arrived at 9:00 in the morning for the 9:30 am jump, which was really the 10:25-ish jump. We spent the first half hour going over basic safety protocol, video and picture options, and learning a little bit about what our dive experience was going to be like. You also get to choose whether you want to do the 12,000ft or the 15,000ft skydive at this time. I would recommend knowing your weight approximately before you go to dive, as there are weight limits in place for safety reasons. They do have a scale in the office, but it seems like it might be a bit embarrassing to weigh yourself in front of a room full of people, especially if you find out you dont make the cut. The weight limit is 100 kg, or 220 lbs.

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At 9:30 our van came to pick us up, and we were driven about 20 minutes to the dive site. It was situated ideally, with mountains flanking both sides of Queenstown’s big, blue lake. The air was clean and crisp, and it was chilly in spite of the sunny weather. Our group of 12 or so was broken up into two groups of 5-6 people, and sent out on two different airplanes. My mini-group was sent out on the second airplane, so we got to relax in their heated lounge and prepare ourselves as we watched the first group go up and down before us.

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Fifteen or so minutes later we went to the bathroom one last time, then headed out to get ourselves dressed. Our uniforms were very unfashionable grey jumpsuits, secured at the wrists and ankles with velcro and cinched tight with an oppressively thick harness, which made walking incredibly uncomfortable. We were introduced to our dive instructors, who attached a soft helmet, a pair of goggles and a pair of gloves to us, and then introduced us to our photographers before setting out on the plane.

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The plane ride up was easily the most horrifying part of the entire experience. Before getting into the plane, I’d been relatively calm and collected, moreso than I would have thought knowing I was about to throw myself out of an airplane to freefall for 7,000 ft. But as soon as that plane began to reach altitude, I lost my cool. I was even thinking of backing out then and there, but fortunately was one of the first people out of the plane. Before I knew it my dive instructor was showing me his altimeter, and it was time to suit up. My photographer snapped a picture that does not do my level of panic justice, and then my helmet and goggles were put on.

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Within seconds I was shimmied to the side of the plane, and after a super slow count to three, I was suddenly careening out the door of the open aircraft. I’m not sure if I’ve ever been quite as close to passing out as I was right then, looking down at the 12,000 ft between myself and the ground. After getting to the edge, I was shoved out of the plane face first and spend a few horrible seconds summersaulting weightlessly through the air, which was the worst and most disorienting part of the whole experience. After that it was all smooth sailing, without any more flips or other disorienting motions. After a few seconds it didn’t even feel like I was falling any more; instead, it felt like I was floating in an anti-gravity chamber, and the ground was coming at me. Mostly, things just got bigger, and I wasn’t feeling much of anything at all, except for the pressure in my ears from the sudden altitude change.

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The freefall lasts for about 45 seconds, until the drive instructor pulls the parachute and you slow down. Once you slow down, you get the opportunity to really take in the scenery around you, which is absolutely amazing! The altitude makes it a little hard to breathe, but unless you have breathing-related illnesses, you might not really be all that bothered by it. After a few minutes of gliding toward the ground with adrenaline pumping, I finally made it safely back to earth. I was shaking hard from the adrenaline, but that went away after about twenty minutes. My dazed smile, on the other hand, wouldn’t budge for almost an hour. I couldn’t stop! It was an absolute amazing experience, and the pictures definitely do not do it

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Useful Info:

Activity Type: Adventure!

Price: $339 for 12,000 foot dive (45 second freefall), $439 for 15,000 foot dive (60 seconds freefall), $189 for photos or video, $229 for photo/video combo. (Note: Photos are 20 hard copies from dive in a cool little book, digital images on a USB stick, internet-accessible key code, and 7 postcards. Video is on USB.)

Value for Money: Good, if you’re into that sort of thing. Of course you want to pay a lot of money for safety, but its still hard to stomach paying $500 for anything.

Suitable for: Anyone with a thirst for adventure without bad panic-reactions.

Recommend: Definitely! Probably the best thing I did on my entire trip.

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New Computer and New Trip!


Hey everyone!

I FINALLY have a functional computer with software that lets me access my photos, so I can finally start posting again! And just in time for my trip with my family to Prague, Budapest, Krakow and Warsaw! So get ready for some more posts from Asia, New Zealand, Australia and now Eastern Europe!

-N

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Hot Springs near Rotorua, New Zealand!


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Pint of Cider at Hobbiton (the Shire!), New Zealand!


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Broken Computer & Updates


Hey all! Just a little update on my status, I’m currently in New Zealand (which is amazing!), and unfortunately my faithful laptop has finally given out. I still have a week or so left until I go home, where I’ll finally be able to start posting again. And I have a lot to tell you about! Since my last post, I’ve worked at the Dog Rescue Project at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, gone Zorbing and swimming in naturally occurring thermal pools in Rotorua, seen the Shire at Hobbiton in Matama, and had loads of other amazing experiences that I can’t wait to tell you about! In the next week before I head home I’ll be going skydiving, seeing the famous Milford Sound, may be going white water rafting and then finally doing a wine tasting, so I’ll have plenty to write about when I get home, and plenty of pictures to show as well.

Thanks for reading and sorry about the delay!

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Baby Tiger Playtime in Chiang Mai, Thailand!


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City Guide: Luang Prabang, Laos


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Full disclosure, everyone: I absolutely love Laos! After coming away from the very beautiful but also very loud, dirty and crowded country of Vietnam, Laos was a complete breath of fresh air. My first stop was in Luang Prabang, which is well-serviced by an international airport and is also located along several bus and ferry routes. I got a very last-minute flight here from Vietnam for under $200, and was able to take a tuk-tuk to my hostel for $3.50 ($7 flat fee from the airport, which can be split between a maximum of 4 people).

Location & atmosphere:

Luang Prabang is a small, wide-open city located in northern Laos, a former French colony. Situated along the banks of the Mekong River, this UNESCO World Heritage city offers a beautiful mixture of natural and man-made attractions, including waterfalls, river cruises, temples and markets. Compared to other major Southeast Asian cities, Luang Prabang has long, wide streets that are generally sparsely trafficked and are perfect for walking, biking and motorbiking.

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What to do:

I only had two days in Luang Prabang, and although I saw most of the things I wanted to see, I definitely could have spent more time there. In the rainy season, note that you will probably only get a half-day of decent weather per day, so plan accordingly and expect to have a lot of time to relax! During the rainy times you can go to one of the many spas, enjoy a long meal in the pop-up restaurants along the riverside, or have a smoothie or drink at Utopia bar, which offers sun-beds and good views of the river from above.

 

Sunbeds on the river at Utopia.

Sunbeds on the river at Utopia.

If the weather is permitting, take a half-day to go see the Kung Si waterfalls outside of the city. A tuk-tuk roundtrip costs about $5, or 40,000 kip. Entry to the waterfalls is not included, and costs about $2.50 extra (20,000 kip). I would suggest leaving on one of the 1:30 pm tuk-tuks, then taking the return at 4:30. This is plenty of time to see the falls, with an included trip to a bear sanctuary on the way up to the falls. You can spend the day hiking up the waterfall, which is steep but provides decent views, or simply swimming in some of the lower pools, which I would recommend for those who are less fit or who have leg/foot/knee injuries. The best view of the falls is located just before the ascent to the top, where you can take pictures from the bridge.IMG_8854

During the second day I would highly recommend renting a bike, which costs about $2.50 for the day (20,000 kip). Riding the bikes is a great way to see the town itself, even if you don’t have a destination in mind. This is also one of the best ways to see all the temples in the area, including the majestic Golden City Temple (Wat Xieng Thong) and the elevated Wat Pa Phon Phao. The views from the top of Wat Pa Phon Phao are stunning and highly recommended. You can also easily see the National Museum and the Handicraft Village, which I unfortunately didn’t make it to as it started to rain. IMG_8946

My favorite thing to do was the Night Market, which offers some of the standard touristy souvenirs and also some amazing food.  I ate there every night and always had something new and different for pennies, and also took home some amazing teas, a tote bag and a scarf. Its very easy to haggle the vendors down, and I’d suggest asking for multiples for a much cheaper price or asking for a single item for about 75% of the original price. Usually you’ll end up somewhere around half or less of the original price offered. This rule generally does not apply for food.

Getting around:

Getting around Luang Prabang is super easy as the town isn’t very big. You could walk to most places within an hour, but renting a bike can be much faster and more fun. As stated above, bike rentals cost about $2.50 per day (plus a deposit). You could also get a tuk-tuk to take you around, for whatever price you can haggle! If it seems too high and your driver won’t budge, just say no thanks and try walking away. Usually you will get the price you ask for.

Where I stayed:

As a budget traveler, I stayed in a hostel called the Khammany Inn Hostel, which cost about $5.50 per night for a dorm, $7.50 for a private room. The rooms were decent, but less nice than some other hostels I’ve stayed in. All the same, they had aircon, free breakfast and an adorable puppy running around, so it was a pretty decent stay. On the downside, I had my laundry done there and all of my underwear and several of my tops went missing, so don’t do your laundry through the service offered there! Its also much cheaper to get it done elsewhere, and if you look around you should find a place that will do it for 8,000 kip, or about $1.

Where to eat:

Always and forever eat dinner at the Night Market. There are a few quick options right from the start, but if you walk down half of a block to a small alleyway you’ll see long rows of food vendors. Go there and check out the buffets– for 10,000 kip (~$1.25) you’ll get an all-you-can-eat plate full of local foods. You can also get freshly grilled meat for an extra 10,000 kip (~$1.25), which I’d definitely recommend. Once you’ve finished your main meal, head back up toward the market, but stop to sample some of the barbecued dried pork (5,000 kip (~$.75) per full serving, which I guarantee you’ll want!) and their coconut discs, which are made with rice flour and coconut for dessert.

Photo credit goes to seeyousoon.ca! Check out her blog, its amazing!

Photo credit: seeyousoon.ca! Check out her blog, its amazing!

During the day time you can also get quick bites to eat on the same street, with the fruit shake/crepe/sandwich vendors standing permanently in the same place as they do at night. Most shakes are 10,000 kip ($1.25), sandwiches and crepes may be slightly more.

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Utopia also serves some pretty decent foods of local and Western varieties, but their service was definitely more than a little lacking in this department, so I’d suggest trying to find a little local pop-up restaurant instead.

Nightlife/Where to drink:

Utopia is really the only good place for young backpackers to go and drink, and you’ll see most everyone from your hostel there. Earlier in the evening, Utopia has a very relaxed vibe, with sun-beds and shisha available, while later in the evening it gets a little rowdy. Utopia does close at 11 pm, though, so its important to get there a little bit on the early side. After Utopia, some people go bowling (tuk-tuk drivers are happy to take you there), but you can opt to go home and drink there instead.

Lounge room at Utopia.

Lounge room at Utopia.

Overall, Luang Prabang was an awesome hit for me. I loved every second of being there, and could not get enough of the relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere. Take it at your own time and remember the popular pidgin’d acronym for the country’s name: Lao P.D.R- Please Don’t Rush!

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Taking a Traditional Cooking Class in Hanoi, Vietnam


One of my favorite bucket list items that I’m currently working on is “take 5 different cooking classes around the world.” So far, I’ve taken a vegetarian cooking course in Thailand, a gourmet cooking course in Tasmania and, most recently, a traditional Vietnamese cooking course. I’m going to be posting my recipes from my most recent classes on my cooking blog, and will provide links to them in the post when they’re up and running!

IMG_8602I unfortunately arrived too late at night to book my class the night before it was meant to run, so I had to wake up early to try and secure myself a spot for the day. I booked the class through my hostel, and was pleased to find that it was only a few steps down the road from where I was staying. The class was run through the Blue Butterfly restaurant by a cheeky Vietnamese man named Tinh, who came and picked me up at my hostel promptly at 9:00 am.

Having booked on to the course at seven in the morning the day of the class, I was a little bit nervous about the class size and what the quality of the class was going to be like. Thankfully my worries were totally unfounded– there was only one other person in the class, and she joined us around ten thirty am, though Tinh said that upwards of ten or twenty people could be in a class, which usually run twice daily. Tinh’s flexibility with booking was a major bonus for me and my super laid-back booking style, especially because he was happy to start the class within two hours of learning that he had a customer!

Putting some elbow grease in by grating papaya at the market.

Putting some elbow grease in by grating papaya at the market.

When I got to the restaurant I was offered a complementary tea while Tinh explained the menu to me, which consisted of traditional Vietnamese spring rolls and sauce, a green papaya and glass noodle salad and a lemongrass chicken stir fry. Before beginning the class, Tinh took me around the local marketplace, where we sampled different fruits and meats from various vendors before buying some of the ingredients we’d need for our recipes. He took a lot of time and effort into explaining what the various fruits and vegetables available for sale were, what they’re commonly used for, and which features I should look for in the products if I was going to try and recreate the recipes at home on my own time. On the way home we stopped into a local temple, which was absolutely beautiful!

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Offerings in the temple.

Offerings in the temple.

Our preparation area consisted of two tables pushed together in the upstairs area, which was spacious enough for the size of the group and placed gloriously underneath the air conditioning unit, which provided some necessary relief from the Vietnamese heat and humidity. The chef spoke little or no English, so Tinh served as a translator for me, and the other woman had her own Japanese language translator for herself. Tinh also was happy to play the part of the photographer and snapped literally dozens of pictures for us throughout the course.

Tinh and I posing for a photo op.

Tinh and I posing for a photo op.

The first thing we learned how to make were some super fun garnishes, including carrot flowers, tomato roses and cucumber hearts. Unfortunately I lack the patience and the skill to make these well, and all my carrots came out chunky and I could not even begin to make a tomato rose to save my life, and destroyed a few perfectly good tomatoes in the process. In the end I think the chef donated a few well-crafted veggie garnishes to my cause so that I didn’t have any ugly plates of food, but I got to eat the mess-ups, so I wasn’t too disappointed.

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My chunky carrot flower garnish.

My chunky carrot flower garnish.

The first dish we made was the salad, which involved mixing grated green papaya, grated carrot, coriander, mint, marjoram, peanuts and sesame seeds together, then tossing with a chili-garlic dressing and spicy dried beef. This recipe was amazingly easy and took almost no technical skill at all, but was incredibly flavorful and delicious, and would be (and was!) great for a hot summer day.

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The second dish we prepared were the traditional spring rolls, which were filled with a mixture of pork, carrots, bean sprouts, onion, spring onions, rice noodle vermicelli, wood ear mushroom, eggs, shallots and pepper. We made a dumpling sauce that was sweet but tangy, and thankfully gluten free! All of the dishes we prepared during the day were actually gluten free, but most contained fish sauce, which I typically am not a huge fan of. We were told that we had to pick a light-colored fish sauce to reduce the fishiness and the heaviness of the flavor, and it definitely did the trick! The sauce didn’t taste fishy at all, and was a perfectly mixed balance of salty and sweet.

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Our main dish was the stir fried chicken with lemongrass and chili, which unsurprisingly consisted of chicken, onions, lemongrass, chili, garlic, and various other stir fry veggies. Although the dish was pretty literally named, I was absolutely floored by how intense the lemongrass and garlic flavors were in the stir fry. Whenever I’ve tried to cook with lemongrass at home it usually just gets stringy and adds little flavor, so I’ve stopped bothering and used another flavor instead. Never again! I will definitely be making this dish in the future, as the lemongrass was not at all fibrous or tasteless.

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At the end of the class we were offered drinks again and had a table set for us to enjoy our food, which we most definitely did! The portion sizes were massive and there was definitely enough food there for at least two meals, but unfortunately I didn’t have any way to store my food, so I had to leave a lot of it on the plate. When I was on my way out Tinh gave me an extra recipe for my beloved Pho, which I can’t wait to try out on my own! Overall the day was amazing and such a value for what I paid (US30), and I could not recommend it highly enough. IMG_8721

Activity Type: Cooking Class

Price: $30

Value for Money: High value activity.

Suitable for: Everyone! This class was very intro-level, and all the foods we prepared could easily be made at home. Spring rolls would be a great activity to do with kids.

Recommend: Definitely. One of the best things I did in Vietnam, and for a pretty low price.

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Filed under Asia, Bucket List, Food, Photography, Travel

Figurines in Mai Chau, Vietnam


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July 22, 2014 · 10:15 pm