Taking on Thailand Part II: Chiang Mai
Traditional to-die-for Khao Soy + adorable baby elephants + buckets of water = our three.5 days in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.
We made our way to Chiang Mai with what seemed like a large portion of the Thai population from Bangkok. D and I unknowingly booked our holiday during Songkran - Thai New Year - a holiday which is known for a four-day water fight between locals and travellers.
Vendors sold water guns for 30 Baht, restaurant owners set up large garbage cans of water outside their doors and by 10 a.m. the streets were lined with people baring pails of water and ready to attack.
It was a nice surprise to land in such a beautifully green region during a widely celebrated Thai holiday. Believe me when I say it is impossible to stay dry! (Hence why there aren't any pictures from the city of Chiang Mai in this post...another reason to go back.) Upon arriving we took an overpriced cab to a main street and wandered to a few guesthouses before we found "Nuanpranee House", a sweet family-owned guesthouse off the main (and wet!) road. We payed a great price for a sparse, clean and air-conditioned room.
Originally the plan was to spend a day at an elephant sanctuary...but someone (me) didn't book early enough and by the time we'd arranged a flight to Chiang Mai, the sanctuaries were both fully booked. We wanted to go someplace where the elephants enjoyed their lives and where guests walked alongside the animals instead of riding them around. I guess we'll have to save that for our next visit too.
Instead we booked a "trekking" day-trip which involved visiting an orchid farm, visiting elephants (that were unfortunately treated not-so-nicely by their trainers), rafting, hiking, swimming in a little spring and getting soaked by wave after wave of hose water. Thais have a funny sense of humour: our day-trip driver purposely slowed down in all the residential areas so the locals could get us with water. They won. Not a single part of me or any of the other nine passengers in the truck bed stayed dry.
I always found the organized day-trips equally awkward and fascinating from a "being social" point-of-view. We would enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience with people from around the world who were also enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime experience, we'd exchange a few words (Where are you from? How long are you travelling? Any suggestions for where we should go next?) and at the end of the trip we'd all go our separate ways and never look back at the people we'd just spent eight hours with. A little bittersweet if you ask me...I would have loved to stay and chat a while longer.
In an effort to stay dry, D and I booked a cooking class the following day with Siam Rice Thai Cookery School. We learned how to make several traditional dishes with help from a local chef. It was a nice change of pace and I enjoyed the homey feel of the outdoor classroom. Each student had his or her own ingredients, cooking utensils, wok and stove top and we got to eat what we cooked. So if you, for example, burned your sticky rice and ruined your mango dessert, (ahem...D...) then you were out of luck. Thanks to this course I learned how to make my favourite Thai dish: a northern Thailand noodle soup called Khao Soy.
Unfortunately our driver dropped us off at an unknown location on the outskirts of town and we got wet walking back to the guesthouse. At least our tummies were full!
In the evening, when the water fights were over and leftover puddles posed the only threats, we browsed the night bazaar and ate at hole-in-the-wall restaurants. D and I discussed how authentic these places were, the kitchens were used for customers and for family. Looking down a small hallway from our table we often saw kids watching TV in a living room.
Different from Bangkok, Chiang Mai seemed to have more serious backpackers. It was a small hippie town with a joyful and fun atmosphere certainly not just because of Songkran.
I enjoyed seeing the culture come alive - the fun and smiles Thailand is known for starred here. I'd definitely go back for that. And the Khao Soy. And definitely the elephant kisses.
A hike through the jungle
Fresh veggies at a local market
Just your local butcher hard at work
More green-leafed veggies
Red hot chilli peppers
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