Chiang Mai pt 1

Well, I'm writing this more to serve as a record of our trip then an
interesting read, but here goes.

I don't know what I types last, but after Suk 11 in Bangkok Lindsay
and I took a night train from BKK to Chiang Mai. That involved
spending anentire day in the BKK train station (lots of cards, lots of
reading, etc) which wasnt all bad. I had gotten into my book "Bone
Mountain" which was about Tibet and Buddhism and the Chinese making
life difficult. Anyway, very good book and it gives some picture of
Tibet and its religion, somewhat accuratly. Plus it gives some idea of
what the whole "free Tibet" thing is all about.

Anyway, I digress, I think. We ate some dinner in the train station
with a fellow north American (quebec actually, however you spell that.
Lindsay says this is correct but the iPod doesnt like it), then jumped
on the train Around 7:30. This time around we had a second class air
conditioned car, the only train available on that particular night (we
had a reservation the next day in Chiang Mai) which was actually very
nice. It was a bit pricey at 611 baht a person (~18 USD) but again it
was the only option and Lindsay and I both much prefer taking the
train to the bus, which is generally filled with tourists, not to
mention making more stops. I should point out that I realize we are
probably no better than other tourists, but its still nice to not see
them.

The train itself was nice, we were surprised and pleased to find out
that we were provided with dinner (similar to airplane food, a bit
less in quality, but similar and actually served in the same manner)
as well as breakfast of sorts in the morning (a bun filled with berry
jelly stuff). We read until 11 or so then watched "Hitch" on my ipod
before *trying* to sleep. Neither Lindsay or I slept very well, and
when we arrived in Chiang Mai at 7:20ish (12 hours on the train for
those of you who don't have access to a calculator) we were both tired.

Enter Chiang Mai, a very popular place for tourists with a bit more
time and perhaps interested in getting out of the touristy tourist
(note the extra tourist) areas of Thailand. While there are still Many
tourists here there are also a lot of ex-pats and it doesnt feel at
all "made for tourists," at least not in general. Just as an example,
the popular night markets are popular to lacal Thais as well as
tourists. Anyway Lindsay and I needed to get to our guest house so we
hailed a tuk-tuk (our first! We have a video we'll post sometime) and
paid 100 baht to get to our place the Hollanda Montri. The rooms were
500 baht per night, not particularly cheap bit doable – plus there was
AC and a TV (only channel in English was the Russian news station
which turned out to be interesting as the big Russian/Georgia conflict
started the day we arrived) and hot showers, etc. Hollanda Montri was
heavily recomended by the people of the Internet and we were quite
happy with it, though as you'll read we decided later it was not the
place for us.

We slept for a while that day until later in the afternoon when we
walked around the city to get our barrings. I find that while it is
exciting to first arrive to a totally unknown and new city, it can be
difficult to get oriented and it is nice after s few ssys of wxploring
to get a sense of direction/space/layout of a city. The first day (and
in fact the first 4 days) we used our legs as our sole means of
transportation. There are no metered taxis here (almost) so tuk-tuks
and songathews (red/yellow trucks that sort of travel in routes around
the city) are the only means of public transportation, and seeing as
they require bartering to figure on a price and even still can be
quite expensive they are not the best for exploring a city. We walked
a long way our first day, and in each successive day as well.

The city is sort of broken into two parts, an old city and new city.
The old city is basically a square bordered by a moat (a real moat at
one point I might add) with 8 gates at various points around the moat.
At this point in time the gates are not really gates but a bridge (the
moat isn't exactly a flowing river) although there is one actual gate
still around. To be honest I can tell a HUGE difference between the
old and new city, until you her a ways out of the city center things
are fairly similar (street markets, restorants, etc). Anyway I'm not
sure why I'm typing all of this if you really care about the cities
layout check out wikipedia or wikitravel.

The "first part" of our Chiang Mai stay was a mixture of three or four
things:
1) me getting a bit sick (not too bad)
2) going to Burma for a "visa run"
3) a cooking class at Baan Thai
4) walking
5) eating

I'm typing all of this on an iPod so I'm not sure how much I'll
actually write about each, but Lindsay (who is sitting across from me
reading) just informed me she wouldn't write much about this stuff so
I'll try.

1) I was a bit sick, which sucked, but it was just a day and we had AC
and a TV so it wasnt too terrible. I watched a lot of the same war
footage from Georgia (S. Ossetia) and heard a LOT of the same Russian
war corospondants say a lot of the same things.

2) I seem to remember already typing something about this but to be
honest I don't remember and at the moment I don't have Internet access
to check so hear goes. Our 30 day tourist visa expired on the 11th of
August and everyday after that we stayed cost us 15$ USD so we had to
do a visa run -basically leave Thailand and then come back in (I feel
deja-vu writing this). The closest country being Burma/Myanmmar we
took a bus to the border, crossed over, and came back (ok not I'm sure
I've written this before). Sort of silly I suppose. The bus ride cost
us 600 each and the visa to Burma was 500. We met a wonderful woman
named Susan and talked all day. We also had good fried food in Burma.
It was sort of a long day and expensive, 11 hours or so in a bus.
Actually a van. That night we went to mikes which didn't help with the
budget (more on that later). Anyway now we can stay until September
something.

3) Baan Thai cooking class was quite wonderful. I wish Lindsay would
write something about it as I'm sure I will not do it justice here.
The class was all day(ish) from 9 am to 4 pm. It was exactly what we
wanted (pretty much) and really well run. One of the best parts about
the class was the people we met. We had a couple from France, a couple
from Isreal, a woman from New York, and a brother/sister from
Singapore/London. Those were just the people we sat with.

You sit on the floor on matts around a table and are provided with tea/
coffee when you first arrive, plus water pitchersa. Basically it was
just very warm and hospitable. First thing we chose which dishes we
wanted to make, there were six to choose from on total. I won't list
them all but I chose a red curry paste, kohsoi, sticky rice and mango,
spring rolls (just because they sounded good), and a prawn and coconut
soup. Lindsays dishes were different though generally similar.
Basicaly we each had one of each "type" of food (1 curry paste, one
stir fry, one desert, etc).

After choosing our dishes we went on a market tour which was quite
spectacular. We walked around a "wet market" and purchased all of our
ingredients, as we went the girl who led the tour explained
everything. You could tell they went there daily as they picked up raw
ingredients (for instance shaved coconut used in the process of making
coconut milk) to show us. That is not to say that this was a tourist
market, it was very much a "real" street market which made the
experience all the better. After buying the required ingredients we
were happily surprised to be given 15 minutes to walk around the
market finding things to ask questions about. Bonus: the guide would
buy things we were currious about, out of Baan Thais pocket, so we
could try them. Once the tour was over we headed back to the cooking
school where they put together a rather nice looking spread for each
of us with all of the foods that we picked out at the market,
including fresh mangosteen and dragon fruit. It was a nice way to
start the cooking class.

The actual cooking was very fun. It was slightly less "intensive" then
I would have liked, but that isn't really a complaint, just a personal
preference. For each dish we moved to specific stations depending on
what we were cooking. For the most part the ingredients were mostly
prepared and cut, except for say, an onion and a tomato and perhaps
some lemon grass. Then you basically put everything into a wok in the
prescribed order and ta da! Food! There was luckily a little more to
it then that, you learned little things like about Thai ginger, how
you dont take the skin off of Thai garlic, etc.

In the end it was lots of fun. We had fun making the dishes and were
very full all day, plus we met lots of great people, including the
brother sister combo Kai Wing and Wei Yee that we ended up going out
to dinner with that evening (which was wonderful and amazing – thanks
again!!).

It was 900 baht per person (yikes!) well spent!

4) not much to say about walking. In the interest of saving money
Lindsay and I walked a good 10-20 kilometers a day. It's nice to walk
as it gives you a better feeling for the city I think but at the same
time when the city is somewhat large walking can be somewhat limiting.

5) food. I love food, as some of you may know. Here we've had some
spectacular food.

To start with what was certainly the most extravagant meals of our
trip so far (certainly on par with lindsays birthday sushi) was the
meal that Kai Wing and Wei Yee treated us to at a resturant called The
Whole Earth. There have been very few meals in my life that I have
been treated to that have such a spread – fish, curries, palek paneer,
an egg dish, naan, dimpling "things", normally I remember exactly what
was served at any given meal but this meal was too big. Even better
than the food was the company. Kai Wing worked and lived in Singapore
and Wei Yee worked and lived in London. Wonderful people, very well
traveled and interesting to talk with. To top it all off they payed
the bill (which was substantial I'm sure), which while making us feel
a bit guilty, was a very nice treat. Thanks again guy!

Edit – OOPS! This should be in the next post as we are not at darets
yet in this post!!****** All of our meals at our guest house, Darets,
have been great. I especially apreciate the scrambled eggs on weat
toast that are a welcomed break from Thai food. Plus the 20 baht mango
shakes. Lindsay has been eating cashew nuts and chicken (for
breakfast, which drives me crazy by the way) and "Lassi shakes" which
are homemade yogurt and ice blended together. I normally love a good
lassi but I'm not a huge fan of these. She loves them though, even at
25 baht! 😉

Near the public park in the south west corner of the old city (which
in itself deserves a post – let the record reflect that I just nicely
asked Lindsay if she would be willing to write something small about
the park, she replied, "no, do it yourself!" – though to be honest she
was [partially] kidding and she has been a most perfect traveling
companion and I think we are both really happy to be traveling
together) is a street that is covered with street food vendors. This
is not at all special or unique as most streets are lined with street
food vendors at one time or another, but these food stalls were top
notch and a few of them were unique to this area. For instance, sushi
stalls with decent maki sushi (rolls) for 5 – 10 baht a piece. Fried
home made dumplings, fresh iced coffee, roasted nuts, buns shaped like
fish with custard in them, and so on. Street food in general is great
but Lindsay and I liked this place enough to come back twice. The
environment at night makes it all the better, the park across the
street is sort of like a city park combined with a carnival combined
with a state fair, only much smaller and more condensed and with less
crap. But still enough crap that people like me can play the games
where you shoot darts out of a gun at stuffed animals to win prizes. I
won a stuffed mouse-thing for Lindsay. There are also beatiful orchid
displays all over for orchid judging competitions, kids painting
statues (10 baht! I wish izzy was here!), and even a somewhat run down
and miniature ferris wheel. Not to mention people all over serving ice
cream for 10 baht (30 cents). Oh, and a small stage where we watched
several local boy/rock bands perform. A wonderful place.

Last but not least (as far as food is concerned) is Mikes Burger. This
is a great place that is very very popular for good reason. They serve
American style hamburgers, French fries, shakes, etc. It great not
only because the food is very US American but also because it looks
and is run in avery American way. People wear gloves when handling
your food, your given "real" napkins, a bill, etc. Plus you sit on
bright red stools at the counter, facing in, while behind you is the
traffic of Chiang Mai whipping by your back. The food is really good
and would satisfy anybody missing a real cheeseburger.

Well thats about it for part 1. It has taken me two days and several
hours to type this all out on my iPod. In reality this post only
covers up to four days ago, we've been at our new guest house for over
4 days but I wanted to split the blog post into two parts to keep
things somewhat focused.

Miss you all!
Kev

————————
asia.shoelessone.com
(from iPod Touch)

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