Some food shots from Thailand and Laos

When I was in my mid-twenties, winding up my Master's Degree with an aim to teaching English overseas, I attended a language teaching convention in Atlanta, GA. My dad (in the English language field himself) put me in touch with experienced teacher pals of his to offer some guidance. Can't recall their names, but I got two pieces of advice from two of them. One told me to skip the language schools and aim instead to work at the college or university level (which I did). Another taught in Thailand. "How's the food there?" I asked him. I don't think I'd ever eaten Thai at that point you see. "Best in the world," he responded. He might have been right.

I'm not sure I remember my first Thai meal after that, but I've scarfed down my share of curries and noodles since then. We're lucky to have several good Thai restaurants near our house. And Thai curries are easy to approximate at home.

But boy did we eat well on this trip.

Market food in Pitsanulok, near train station, from where you catch the bus to Old Sukothai. A selection of dumplings and grilled chicken backs:

Chiang Mai. Two great dishes here, including a slow simmered pork hock flavored with star anise shredded and served with some of its sauce and a hard-boiled egg. I believe this is a Chinese dish in origin. (Tony Bourdain featured this on one of his travel/cooking shows; though we'd seen it it didn't click until we were chatting with a fellow tourist the evening we arrived, seeking recommendations. He told us about it and the female owner who wore a stetson-- that's when we remembered the show. Our drinking mate was unaware the dish was "famous.") 

Below a Chiang Mai curried coconut noodle dish called Khao Soi. Susan had hers with chicken but I couldn't resist the crispy pork belly whenever I saw it. Always topped with fried noodle bits. 

Overnight in Pak Beng, Laos, a small town layover on the Mekong en route to Luang Prabang. Early the next morning I found the local market, selling among other things grilled field rat and these balls of cooked river greens, a lump of which would hearten and enrich any soup or stew. 

Nutella. It's everywhere. Makes a good crepe. Night Market, Luang Prabang.

Lao coffee. Like Vietnamese coffee but not as good. 

Noodles for breakfast in Indochina. Really delicious. 

Fancy new year's eve meal, Tamarind, Luang Prabang, Laos. 

(Thanks for the recommendation Justine and Leslie.)

A favorite of mine: grilled river fish, Luang Prabang Night Market. 

Ventiane, the Lao capital, has many varied restaurants and we were happy for a break from local food after several weeks. 

Here some pate, pizza and baked pasta at French restaurant. 

Of course we started with a pastis each. We're not animals. 

LOVE fake japanese food. All restaurants should offer this in place of mere printed menus. 

More pizza at Via Via in Ventiane, run by two cute French guys. 

We ate very well on the island of Ko Samet, four hours by bus from Bangkok. 

Grilled ribs:

In retrospect a whole kilo of smoky grilled shrimp was probably a tad much. 

Following the trip Susan informed me all meat must now be served on a stick. Grilled pork belly:

Pork belly cooking. They were $.30 each. 

Dried pork with sticky rice. 

Never tried this in Vietnam, finally got around to it in Thailand. Dried cuttlefish, cranked through a tenderizer, then grilled. Like squid jerky. 

Susan's favorite meal of the trip. Fish poached in aromatic lime juice. 

A snack after the ferry back to the mainland, fresh coconut ice cream, served in the coconut shell. 

Back in Bangkok for 3 nights before departure. Fresh doughnuts with coconut dipping sauce. 

Sadly, despite a ban, this atrocity is served all over Chinatown. 

Braised pork with greens. 

Crispy pork belly, ready for slicing and adding to a variety of dishes. 

Served here at this restaurant, with variety of meats ready for serving. 

Our final meal in Bangkok was at this "restaurant."

We try durian for the first time. 

One final shot of delicious crispy pork. 

Our hero.

Best and Worst Hotel of the Trip

Overall the lodging was fine in Thailand and Laos, and we generally booked online using our phones or Amazon Fire tablet a day or two before arrival via or

However the two guest houses included the package from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang (on the Thai border, then in the overnight stop on the two-day slow boat) were by far the worst of the trip, especially the first, below.

It's like a soviet-era compound.

It's owned by a charming Thai who worked hard and had traveled a great deal in the hospitality industry over the years-- including a barren spot in Saudi Arabia, which gave us something to talk about. But here in Chiang Xing on the Thai border he clearly specializes in skimming a portion of proceeds from those like us who booked group travel. He also sold Laos money at a rate beneficial to him, warning of limited ATMs and high fees, etc. There were plenty of them, we found, with reasonable fees, on arrival in Laos.

By careful observation we also feel that several rooms were rented by the hour-- not for prostitutes, but for young couples eager to have some privacy in a strictly traditional nation. See those scooters and motorbikes? All young couples.

Here's a scene of us awaiting transportation to the border, ahead of our boat trip. 

 Here's our "room." I've never slept on a harder surface-- and I've slept in a bathtub. Harsh fluorescent lighting. The overhead fan was either off or gale force.

There was no what we would call sheet, and just a duvet for cover; these were not washed between uses, but we saw they were at least aired out outside the rooms.

The bathroom, heh. Flushed by hand. You scoop water into the bowl via a vessel in the dark tub by the loo, which is filled with water. No towels and any wash water drains directly into the ravine behind the guest house. 

If I had to guess, I'd say rooms were probably $6/night? I don't know as the price was included in our travel.

The nicest room was in Bangkok's Chinatown. At $110/night, quite a difference. But we had been economical most of the trip and so decided to splurge on Shangai Mansion before our departure back to Pittsburgh and winter. 

Another nice couple of night were spent in "new" Sukothai, in our own little traditional Thai-style hut: