Quito, Ecuador: Walks & Views

Quito, our first taste of Ecuador, became all about long walks and beautiful mountain and city views. It’s a massive place, being the country’s capital with a population over 2.6 million. It happens to be the highest capital city in the world at 2850 metres above sea level and is also the closest to the equator. We spent our time in “Old City” and the neighbouring districts of La Mariscal and La Floresta. These areas being the most popular with travellers.


We heard rumours about the presidential elections currently happening in Ecuador. However we didn’t pay much attention to it. Turns out we arrived the weekend of the elections. Apparently there was no ideal outcome as the population is split on the two candidates. A win for either one could mean protests in the streets, potentially getting violent and posing issues for travellers. Just to be safe the government placed a city wide ban on alcohol….nice.



Election signs and political graffiti were easy to spot all over the city

As soon as we left the airport and caught some glimpses of the city we were pretty excited about the exploring that laid ahead of us. Quito is a stunning city, nestled in the Andes, featuring amazing architecture. Quito proudly possesses one of the most extensive and best-preserved historic centres of Spanish America.

The walking and the views got better each of the three short days we stayed. Day one the view was from the rooftop terrace of our new temporary home, Quito Backpacker Guesthouse. The rooftop offered 360 degree views of the Old City, highlighting La Virgin del Panecillo, a massive aluminum statue overlooking the city and a dark looking gothic cathedral, we agreed we would get a closer look tomorrow. Quito Backpacker Guesthouse was easily one of the coolest places we’ve stayed. It’s like an old colonial mansion, with four floors full of rooms and plenty of common areas to hang. The staff is amazing. $20 got us a private room with a bathroom and a decent breakfast each morning.


The rooftop terrace at Quito Backpacker Guesthouse


Day two boasted views from that gothic cathedral we spotted the day before from our rooftop. We learned the proper name too, Basílica del Voto Nacional. What ended up being really cool about this place is that for $2 we could explore the whole church, we climbed to its highest point, across a plank bridge above the main hall and up steep metal stairs to the tower. We took in the views and spent the rest of the day walking around the Old City, which eventually led to our crazy pickpocket story you can read here.


As if Quito wasn’t high enough from sea level, on day three we went another 2000 metres high on the Teleferico, a cable car that ascends to one of the highest mountain tops, just a few kilometers out of the Old City. This is a must do for visitors to Quito. The views are awesome and you can do a hike while at the top, downhill bike the trails to the bottom or just spend a few minutes wondering around and catch the next car down like we did. We took a cab to the base of the Teleferico but we decided to walk around ourselves after. We zig zagged through the city streets for hours until we literally got shin splints and our feet were too sore to continue.



A plumbing supply store, Jeff had to stop and take a pic

To top off our final night in Quito, we joined a couple other guests and staff on the rooftop for an amazing BBQ feast. We had unlimited amounts of marinated chicken, pork, beef and sausages and some tasty sides prepared by the staff.


The rooftop BBQ

The good thing was the elections didn’t effect our time in Quito, things stayed safe overall, no new president was announced during our stay. We may have even enjoyed the odd illicit drink, thanks to the locals that hooked us up!

Good times in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the largest city set in mountainous northern Thailand. Its slower, relaxed vibe provides a nice contrast to the craziness of Bangkok. There is no shortage of things to do while here. Some quick research gave us a long list to choose from. Visiting the elephants is probably the most popular item. We were hesitant about this, a lot of places claim to be sanctuaries or rescue centres but regardless, its still a tourist driven business. Is there such thing as a good animal based tourist attraction? We aren’t sure. Our taxi driver felt that as long as you don’t visit places that let you ride the elephants, then they are treated well. He also worked at one and sells the tours, so his opinion may be biased. They aren’t cheap either so we passed on it. Elephant riding out but we still had a big list:

  • Zip Lining
  • River floating
  • Cooking Classes
  • Temple tours
  • Night Market
  • Lady Boy Caberet
  • Muay Thai Fights
  • and more…

With all these options and this new city at our finger tips, here is what we ended up doing:

1. Condo Chillin’

This one is first for good reason. We decided to splurge on our accommodations for the 6 days we had here. Its still the 3 of us travelling together. After Bangkok we knew we would want some time and space to come down. We thought it might be nice to do a bit of home cooking too. So we found a 2 bedroom condo at Tree Boutique Condos. It had a full kitchen, big bathroom with separate shower, balcony, laundry and a decent living/dining room. Oh, and a pool! In retrospect this place was a blessing and a curse. It was nice to have the comforts but it seriously hindered our motivation to get out and explore. We probably would have done more had we booked a basic room in a more central area. Regardless we all enjoyed it! Its also worth mentioning Jeff was sick (again) for the first 3 days. This was probably the most comfortable place to lay in bed feeling like crap all day. And that’s pretty much what he did. Would you believe we never even took a picture of our temporary home!?


2. Walking Around Town

We spent a lot of our time in Old City. The historic brick walls and moats that surround this area are still partially intact. Small shops, restaurants and guesthouses give this area its cozy charm. Not many big name businesses around here, and its hard to see a building over a few stories high. We checked out some markets, and dabbled in some food and drink. We returned to the Old City daily, it was about a 10 minute tuk tuk from our condo.


Thapae Gate


View from atop a wall looking at the moat


3. Cooking Classes

Britt and Nicole took off on this full day excursion alone. Jeff spent the day recovering. The class was booked through Thai Farm Cooking School. It started off with a trip to the local market to pick up ingredients and learn about some of the foods the vendors were selling. The rest of the day was spent at the farm, in a nice rural area about 45 minutes out of the city. They each had their own cooking station and chose 5 dishes to make from a list of popular thai foods. Papaya salad, mango sticky rice, coconut soup, yellow chicken curry, pad thai and spring rolls were some of the options. The setting was beautiful, the guides were super friendly and they were left with a recipe book. They were also sent home with some food for Jeff.



4. Muay Thai Fight

This has been on our to do list for a while. Bangkok offers professional stadiums and better quality fights but it didn’t really link up with our schedule. We knew we could still check them out in Chiang Mai. It did not disappoint! Despite not being big fans of any pro fighting sports, we had a great time. The Chiang Mai fights are more general entertainment then the pros you would see in Bangkok. This was clear when the first fighters took to the ring and had to be no more then 13 years old. Next up, a female fight… the girls were maybe 16. But make no mistake, the fights are brutal. These kids train hard, and can land some serious blows. The girl fight ended in a knock out. Super entertaining stuff once you get over the weirdness of watching young kids beat the hell out of each other. Half time show was 8 guys blindfolded in the ring, throwing random punches. It was more of a comedy act then a fight. The last two fights were adults. Jeff started placing a few bets with one of the locals and we really got into it. Definitely makes for a good night out. Almost every seat is ringside and the ring is surrounded by bars. There are a few options, we chose to see that fights at Thaphae Stadium.



Kid fighters, kid cornermen/coaches



5. Getting a Tattoo

Thailand is littered with tattoo parlours. Trying to find out which shops have a comfortable balance of skill, cleanliness and a fair price is nearly impossible. But if you do the homework it can be totally worth it. Most shops are open 24 hours for those who find the courage after a few cocktails. We seen a guy who had to be pretty wasted getting tattooed on Koh Phangan during the Full Moon Party, probably 3:00am. But tattoos are definitely not just for the tourists. Thai’s love tattoos. Most have really good work done too.

A different way of getting tattoed in Thailand is “bamboo style”. A traditional method using a single needle, gently tapped into the skin by hand. An even more unique way, and what Jeff was interested in was getting a Sak Yant at a temple by a monk.

Traditional Sak Yant are hand-etched onto the skin using ancient geometric designs mixed with Buddhist prayers. They are believed to give the wearer magic powers associated with healing, luck, strength, and protection against evil. Buddhist monks originally engraved Sak Yant into warriors seeking protection and strength in battle.

Clearly the most legit way of getting this done was to find a temple. CM Locals website has good info. Of course there are downsides, a temple is not a sterile environment, you don’t get a new needle, risk of infection and disease is higher. The natural ink monks use can also cause an allergic reaction. You can’t get too picky about the vanity stuff either (placement, design, straight lines etc…). This is about the magic and honouring the tradition.

With every cool story comes risk but Jeff eventually opted for the shop. Sacrificing the mystical tradition, but also avoiding HIV so… thats good. The Best Tattoo Parlour was a western style shop, clean as a medical office and came highly recommended. Jeff went with a 9 Spire Sak Yant design he picked out ahead of time. He did get it done bamboo style. It was a painful, but really cool experience and the tat turned out just the way he wanted.



The crew at The Best Tattoo Parlour


Chiang Mai was good to us. Our last day there left us only 2 more days until our Thai Visa’s expired. So, it was time to cross some borders. Vietnam bound!