December 14, 2009
We had an early flight this morning, well 10.30am, so had to get up early and pack. It had taken us an hour to get from the airport when we first arrived and thought we’d best leave ourselves an hour this time, too. Needless to say, we got to the airport in about 25 minutes but thankfully were able to get rid of our baggage and get through and have a rather bland Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast – I’d have rather had something else but it was a choice of Dunkin or Burger King and neither sounded that good!
The flight was just over an hour and seemed to go by pretty quickly, the Stephen King book I’m reading providing suitable entertainment. The landing was pretty bad though, the plane bumping down a couple of times on the runway and appearing to veer over a little as the pilot tried to keep control. The bumps were so bad part of the ceiling panel just in front of us came apart!
We got a taxi into the city and checked in at our guest house. We didn’t have a huge amount planned to do here, planning on relaxing and chilling out a little but we were soon loaded with hundreds of tour brochures! Rather than just ignore them we actually had a read through and a couple caught our eye. One was another cooking class and the other was a one day trek into the countryside. We booked the cooking class for Wednesday night and the trek for Thursday.
We got lunch at a little café around the corner from where we are staying. We aren’t yet in the habit of eating rice or noodles too much for lunch as they just seem so heavy and we were glad this place had a nice range of sandwiches. Accompanied by a very refreshing blueberry soda, the sandwiches hit the spot.
The afternoon was spent having a wander around the area we were in (the old city) and just lazing around the room relaxing. We had a nice room in Bangkok but the area was busy and the weather hot and stuffy so it was nice to be in a quiet area where the temperatures weren’t quite so high, even during the mid-afternoon.
In the evening we took a taxi out to the far side of the city to go to a restaurant to try a local speciality – khao soy, a noodle dish with a Thai curry sauce. The restaurant we went to was called Just Khao Soy who served exactly that and served it on an artist’s palette complete with a range of condiments to change the flavor to your liking, including chillies, pickles, sugar, fish sauce and coconut milk. We ordered a beef one and a chicken one and asked for both to be spicy. The waiter couldn’t believe we wanted it “Thai spicy” and asked us about 4 or 5 times. When it arrived, it was really tasty and whilst it was spicy, it was not over-bearing. Elizabeth and I managed to work our way through two large bowls of khao soy and I think we surprised the watching restaurant staff! I even experimented with the last of my sauce, adding bits of each condiment to it just to try. It was a great introduction to northern Thai cuisine.
After dinner we walked around one of the night markets, buying Elizabeth a t-shirt which said “Little Miss Stubborn” on it. I’d insisted we buy it!
December 15, 2009
When we first got up this morning, we arranged our laundry and took it down to the hotel reception. We’d not done a big load of washing for quite a while and we had a fair bit to get done. It was just over $1 per kilo here so we thought it was a good place, plus someone else would be doing it for us!
We headed out to get some breakfast and went to the same café we’d had lunch at yesterday, swapping the eggs and bacon we’d consumed in Bangkok almost every morning for a healthier fruit and muesli yoghurt. The eggs and bacon weren’t even that good in Bangkok but it was about all there had been so it was nice to have some choice here.
After a quick chat with Elizabeth’s parents, we headed out to the zoo which is a little way outside the city. The weather was still nice and cool as we rode out there and we were pleased to feel like we could walk around all day without feeling disgustingly sweaty!
We got to the zoo and paid the main entry fee, bypassing the shuttle buses and walking up the hill to the exhibits. The shuttle bus was only 20 Baht for the entire day but we’d decided we would walk all day as we felt we needed the exercise. The leaflet with the tickets reckoned the walk around the entire zoo was about 4km and although we skipped the top loop, we must’ve done that and more with all the doubling back and wandering we did!
The zoo was really well laid out and had large enclosures for all the animals with plenty of grass, trees and water as required. Even better, the trees covered many of the paths too providing lovely shade to walk in when tackling some of the steeper hills in the park! Some of the enclosures had fruit stalls by them where you could buy fruit to feed the animals. It was amazing watching the hippos trying to scale the walls to eat the bananas that a little Thai girl threw to them. They were so close we could actually touch them, if we’d so chosen. Watching the giraffes in the next pen was equally amusing as the long, snake like tongues reached out to grab the food on offer.
We paid extra to go in the aquarium and I’m glad we did. It was quite expensive but we’ve already found out that most aquariums are and at least this one felt worth the price. The tanks were really clean and big and it was quite cool seeing many new fish as most of the exhibits were fish from this region.
Quite honestly, the zoo was a great day out and made a change from the temples we’ve almost become overloaded with of late. Even lunch (a spicy noodle thingy) from the zoo café was tasty and it cost under $3 for BOTH of us!
We spent another couple of hours walking around after lunch seeing a white Bengal tiger, some large lions, orangutans and gibbons including a youngster with bundles of energy annoying the adults and falling from the bushes! We also saw a seal show, surrounded by hundreds of screaming school children. This was quite bizarre and almost seemed a little cruel but some of the tricks were brilliant and funny.
We got a taxi back to the hotel and collapsed on the bed for a bit, the walking being more than we’d done for a while. Elizabeth and I both agreed that it was good to get out and stretch our muscles a bit more – probably good as I assume we’ll need them for the bit of trekking we have planned!
In the evening we headed out to a restaurant called Art Café. It was recommended by our friend who had been in Chiang Mai a few days before us but (sorry to say, Donna!), the food was pretty bad and expensive. We both went for Mexican as we wanted a change from Thai and just one dish was the same price as our entire dinner last night – drinks ‘n’ all! I’ll be getting back to Thai food from now on!
December 16, 2009
Today we did our duty around the temples, but not before a nice breakfast at our nearby café.
The Lonely Planet book had a walking tour which took in three or four temples, a museum, a monument, a lunch stop and a massage! We weren’t interested in the museum but the lunch and massage especially sounded good!
We started off at a temple called Wat Phra Singh which is supposed to be the “superstar” of the Chiang Mai temples. When we arrived there was some kind of procession going on. After going inside the main temple and walking around the main sight, we were not sure what the procession was for, nor were we sure what made this temple so important. It was a really cool structure and had a massive main stupa, but it was no different from those we’d seen in Bangkok, at least to my untrained eyes. However, around the back of one of the temple buildings, just as we were about to leave, an old gentleman spotted us and started telling us some things about the temples. He told us some of the history behind the temple and the large Buddha in the main hall as well as explaining about the procession going on. It appeared the abbot had died around 18 months ago and today was the day of his funeral. For the last 18 months or so he had been on display in the temple, sat in front of the urn in which he was to be cremated along with the large funeral chariot type thingy.
For the sake of morbid curiosity, we headed back inside the main temple to see the abbot having not noticed him there before. We were also told there was another abbot awaiting cremation in another city temple, also deceased around 18 months, and another who had been dead for almost 9 years!
Next we walked to Wat Chedi Luang and here we saw the second abbot inside the main temple. It was quite creepy seeing these men but it was nowhere near as bad as seeing Lenin and Mao, knowing these men would soon be cremated and rested peacefully – unlike Lenin who wanted to be buried with his family in St Petersburg (Leningrad). For the abbots, this was the final part of their lives rather than being put in a showcase for generations to gawp over.
The main attraction here was the chedi which had collapsed in an earthquake and has been partially restored. Around the edges of one of the upper terraces were a number of massive elephant statues which looked really impressive.
Our final temple stop was Wat Phan Tao which was similar to the two we had visited except for a load of hanging paper lanterns and a monk sat in a small stream up to his waist cleaning the water out!
We decided to skip the final temples on our route, having visited three and seen a handful more as we walked around. It was too early for lunch still so we decided to head straight for our massage.
We had chosen a massage parlour which was advertised at our hostel. The girls who work here are either inmates or former inmates (the leaflet didn’t really make it clear which) of the local prison. They had all served time for minor crimes and were being educated with a skill they could use to prevent them reoffending. Also, it was a traditional Thai massage place so Elizabeth and I were both looking forward to being stretched and battered for an hour!
The massage felt really good and it felt like the girl was really battering my calf and thigh muscles, not to mention the way my back was cracked and stretched. It felt so good and I’m not sure when I felt so loose, although later that afternoon my calves ached like crazy!
We spent much of the afternoon trying to spend money – as strange as that sounds when budget travelling! We had recently got a new credit card which gave us loads of air miles for signing up and then a load more if we spent a certain amount within two months. We looked through things we had not yet booked and tried to see if we could arrange them now rather than later. A couple of flights, some car hire, a GPS and a couple of hotel reservations later and we were nearing our spending target. Sometimes spending money is just too easy. Scarily easy, in fact!
Later that afternoon we had a cooking class. We were collected at our hotel and along with a weird pair of French ladies (are all French people weird? I think so) we started off with a visit to the local market where our driver, Pot, explained to us a number of the various herbs and spices they used in cooking. Some of them I had heard of but never seen and some I’d never even heard of. We also had a few minutes to walk around on our own and took the chance to buy some of the spicy sausage which is a speciality of the region. It tasted really good and one of the French ladies tried it. She didn’t like spicy food and I told her it wasn’t too hot, which at first it wasn’t. I don’t think she appreciated the feeling of her mouth on fire!
At the main house, we were greeted by the other staff including Pot’s wife (whose name I didn’t catch) and their lady boy helper called Oat. “She” was so camp she was more girly than the three women I was doing the cooking class with. I’m still not sure how to approach this situation but at least I have tact, unlike the French woman who asked if Oat was the BROTHER of Pot’s wife!
We picked five dishes to make each and Elizabeth and I decided fairly quickly whilst the French woman took forever, much to Pot’s annoyance!
We set out to cook the first two of our dishes – I made a spicy and sour Tom Yum soup and a Pad Thai. Elizabeth also had the Pad Thai and a glass noodle salad. The instructors were really friendly and helpful and we had a lot of fun messing around and making what turned out to be lovely dishes. After a late-ish lunch, a helping of spicy sausage and two dishes, I was already stuffed!
The third of our dishes was the paste for making the curries. I made a green curry and Elizabeth made a red one, the main difference between the two being the fresh green chillies I used in mine and the dried red ones she used.
This paste then went into the making of our curries (the fourth dish) and then finally I made a papaya salad and Elizabeth made a mango and sticky rice dessert. The curries were fantastic and I look forward to making those again whilst my papaya salad was nice and fresh and spicy. One of the French women made a curry too but didn’t even eat it – she didn’t like spicy food and only wanted to make one just so she could say she had. See, weird. Elizabeth enjoyed her dessert but I had tried it as she was making it and wasn’t so keen. Still, we enjoyed our class as much as our Cambodian one and our recipe book contained every recipe we had made and many others!
We headed back to the hotel completely stuffed and collapsed on the bed pretty quickly!
December 17, 2009
Today we had a tour planned out to some of the villages and sites outside Chiang Mai. Our group consisted of a group of four people from Leeds, a very timid English girl, a couple of Dutch girls and the ever-present obnoxious Frenchies, this time a couple of grumpy old ladies. One of the ladies barely smiled all day and Elizabeth christened her Little Miss Sunshine!
Our first stop was a ride on an elephant. We had been grouped with the timid English girl and, quite honestly, I think she was scared of her own reflection. She wouldn’t get on the elephant and eventually decided not to bother. This was better for Elizabeth and I as we got the big bugger to ourselves (with a guide, of course). We stopped and bought some bananas and Elizabeth had fun feeding him as we walked through the dense forest. The ride was quite bumpy especially going downhill and we were quite pleased when we came to the end. The ride was good fun but we had our fill! We thought it was fun but the French couple complained it was uncomfortable.
After that we drove to one of the small villages and were faced with a load of tourist tat to buy. We didn’t bother, instead preferring to take pictures of the mangy dog! From the village we walked for about 20 minutes to a beautiful waterfall, passing many farmers working the fields as we did. Even as we walked along the trail, the timid girl didn’t like crossing some of the bamboo bridges. It was no surprise that when we reached the waterfall that she didn’t even cross the bridge, let alone swim. But then again, other than us and the group of people from Leeds, no-one else even crossed the bridge either! The water was nice and cold and refreshing but the current from the waterfall into the pool at the bottom was surprisingly strong. I couldn’t swim fast enough to get anywhere near the falls itself. We enjoyed the time cooling off but, like the elephant ride, were pleased to get out of the current.
We trekked on a little further and got to another little village, selling equally crappy goods which we ignored. From there, we had a short drive to lunch where we had some nice fried rice, yellow curry and some stir-fried vegetables. Even here, the bloody stupid English girl decided she didn’t want to eat, even before she’d seen the food. I wasn’t sure why she came on the trip as so far, from three things, she’d done nothing.
After lunch we went bamboo rafting. The bamboo rafts are about 10 lengths of bamboo tied together that just float and you climb on. The grumpy French woman (Little Miss Sunshine) decided she didn’t want to do it and, surprise surprise, neither did the English girl. She claimed she got seasick, for God’s sake. I felt like throwing her in and holding her under!
We shared our raft with the other French woman who seemed a little more relaxed now. We climbed aboard and all sat down, immediately feeling our behinds wet as the raft sat in the water. Our captain was good fun and guided us down the gorgeous river. At points we passed villagers who threw water over us and at times the captain leaned so the raft almost tipped over, not to mention the mini-rapids we went through right at the end which got us pretty wet. Only at the end did Elizabeth tell me that the lady on our raft couldn’t actually swim and was quite scared. I think she was really proud of herself to have done it and I have to admit feeling some admiration for her as well. It was certainly no excuses for her whilst the English girl made up every excuse she could think of. Quite pathetic, really.
We got dried off and took the hour or so drive back to the hotel, borrowing a towel and having a nice hot shower and a nap for an hour before heading out for dinner. We had decided to go to a vegetarian place but when we got there the menu looked a little short on options, everything containing tofu rather than the fresh veggies we’d hoped for. We instead headed to a little Thai place around the corner which looked really busy. We ordered a fried rice curry for me and a vegetable and coconut soup thing for Elizabeth. We waited almost an hour for our food and couldn’t believe how long it took, knowing ourselves how quickly you can make Thai food from scratch! When my food arrived it was good and so was Elizabeth’s but near the end she noticed a hair in it and sent it back, saying she wouldn’t pay for it. When we got the bill they had deducted the 20 Baht for the rice rather than the 60 Baht for the main dish. We told them we were paying for neither and 5 minutes later we still hadn’t received the updated bill so I just went up to the counter, chucked some money down for my dish and walked out. It was probably the longest we’ve spent out at dinner the entire trip!
After dinner we went and bought a book for Elizabeth and headed back to the hotel. I was hoping to get my hair cut but by the time we got back, the barbershop had shut for the night. Thanks, crappy slow dinner place!
Tomorrow we head south, to Phuket. Chiang Mai has been good fun but, like Bangkok, I’m not sure I could really find a reason to come back. We could’ve done more activities outside the city for definite but we couldn’t spend a week here doing endless expensive tours.