Month: January 2011

Thailand day 9, hanging out in Chiang Mai

Day 9. 27 Jan. 2011. Trying to chill.

Finally, we had a day scheduled for doing nothing. Obviously, we couldn’t do “nothing,” exactly. But we did wake up at noon, which felt like heaven. Then we went to Dada Kafe, recommended by Don and Paola, for smoothies and coffee. It was great to NOT eat gigantic quantities of food, for once.

I stayed there for quite a while, drinking coffee and hanging out, while Matt went next door to Gecko used books. He came back with a Thai phrasebook and a selection of crappy scifi, then we headed out to explore a little. We decided to walk in the direction of the train station, east of the city, while we talked over the options for getting back to Bangkok.

About halfway there, we realized that if we took the train back, we wouldn’t have time to meet up with Nik again, post-Mae Hong Son trip. That seemed rude, since he was paying for it, so we decided to fly.

From a street-side flower market, we passed through a Chinese temple and into the Watorot market. The temple was quite different from the Thai wats, and I really liked the figures on clouds along one wall facing the main entrance. We didn’t go inside.


Watorot market is a huge sprawling market, covered mostly, with 3 levels that I’m sure I saw. We were hunting for knives, directed there by Pon, but we never found any. Eventually we got tired of looking and headed into the streets around it.


After some time, we ended up in another wat, this one surrounded by animal figures, both realistic and fantastic, as well as some purely fictional, like Donald Duck. As I petted a cat sunning itself outside, a man walked up and asked how I liked Thai cats. We had a brief conversation with him during which we learned a couple of things: we were in Chinatown; and elderly Chinese people brought their pets here when they couldn’t care for them. We asked him if he lived nearby, and he explained that he was one of the architects renovating this wat. Very interesting!


We continued to wander, and then it was time to pick up the laundry we’d dropped off early in the day. There, the man asked us where we came from. We’ve learned over time that it’s much easier simply to tell people where we live, so that we only have one answer, which is therefore Amsterdam (vs. explaining that we are Americans from Minnesota and Washington State who live now in the Netherlands). This answer prompted him to switch to speaking Dutch with us, as it turns out that he is quite proficient in it, and travels regularly to the Netherlands. Fancy that! Matt decided to have him make him a suit, and was deliberating on that when the phone rang.

It was Don. He wanted to know if we wanted to join them for drinks and/or dinner. We had planned on calling them with the same offer, so we finished up the measurements and headed back to the Sparrow’s Nest. I needed a shower first, then we set out.

We ended up at a Tex-Mex place that had free popcorn. Don is apparently addicted to popcorn, so it was perfect. We started with some margaritas, and everyone had a little to eat. Then, walking a bit further, we passed a cocktail bike-wagon like the beer wagons I’ve seen in both Amsterdam and Minneapolis, except that this one wasn’t moving. We stopped and had more drinks, but left when we realized it was doubling as a gay pickup point and we didn’t really fit in. We headed to El Toro, which Paola and Don really liked, but then Don pointed out that Number One Bar was nearby, and had been recommended by our friend Pepijn, who was friendly with the staff. We ordered drinks and chatted with Toon and Ricy, both of whom remembered Pepijn and were glad to hear the relayed hello.

After a drink there, we drunkenly made our way over to El Toro, where Matt and Don bought drinks while Paola and I bought banana roti with chocolate and condensed milk from the stand outside. We got to the table to find they’d bought 2 bottles of SangSom Thai rum and a bottle of coke.


We finished it. Then staggered drunkenly and very much like obnoxious tourists back to the Sparrow’s Nest.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Advertisements

Thailand day 8, back in Chiang Mai city

Day 8. 26 Jan. 2011. Chiang Mai, revisited. Or rather, really visited.

What a day! Is it my imagination, or do we manage to cram more things into a single day than should really be possible?

We woke up, on time, for breakfast. Jennifer did her very best to give us a lighter breakfast this morning, but wasn’t very successful. We were served a pastry selection, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, a yoghurt cup with mango and honey this time, and a fruit plate. Thankfully not another huge English breakfast, but still quite a lot.

Pon came over to check that noon would be a good time to take us into town, so we spent the time packing up and I relaxed by the pool while Matt worked on something on my iPad. Then it was time to go.

Pon had picked up prickly ash and Thai spring roll wrappers for us at the market, and we settled the last part of our bill. Then we drove to town, where we checked into the guest house that Don and Paola had recommended: Sparrow’s Nest Guest House. It’s more centrally located than SK House, although both are quite central. It’s more expensive, 700 baht per night, and the rooms are smaller, but they’re more private. In their own little garden in the alley behind the hotel (duong ch-something… Probably means sparrow’s nest), they are like mini vacation cottages. I really like the bamboo seat in the garden, and was reading there later until the mosquitos got too bad.


After checking in, we showered and sat around a bit. Then, just as we were getting ready for a wander and were in the process of texting Don to let them know we were also there, he showed up. Their room is 2 doors from ours. 🙂 he made some recommendations about where to walk, and we were just leaving when Pon showed up with our forgotten sweatshirts that we’d left at Sompon’s. Then we went for a walk.

Now we are staying in the same neighborhood the big Sunday night artisan market had been in, and it’s a nice and very busy place. There are numerous wats, free-range monks, schools, monks-in-schools, cafe’s, and all kinds of shops and tour agents. And massage studios, fish spas, bars, guest houses, hotels, street vendors, etc.

We went to a wat: Wat Sri-Kerd. Inside, Matt noticed the double Buddha effect. I think I’ve seen it in all of them, but now I’m not so sure. There are 2 giant buddhas, one behind and above the other, preceded by numerous smaller buddhas, in various rankings. This shrine also had a statue and photos of a bespectacled man in lotus position, represented at varying ages. The papers inside gave no indication of who specifically he is. I could make several plausible guesses, but I’ll spare us all the blind speculation for now.


There was also a funny box with two slots, which obviously requested a deposit of 5 or 10 baht, but I had no idea what for. So I put in 10 baht. A moment later all the lights spun crazily, but I still had no idea, so I took a picture to ask someone later.


We had coffee, then Matt had some street food next to a school, where only a group of workmen were eating. I sat in the shade like the workmen, squatted on the ground, while waiting for him.


After, Matt needed to use a full-sized computer, so while he was occupied there, I went around the corner to check out the fish spa. Basically, they have these low aquariums with many many little sucker fish. The fish eat dead skin and who knows what else off your feet while you sit there for about a half hour. It tickles, but not very much. Some of the fish are stronger than others, and you can really feel them as they make their way across your foot or ankle. If I spread my toes, they wriggled into the space and jostled for territory. If I thought too much about it while watching, it seemed kind of creepy. So I tried to think about how funny it was. And it really was. What a strange thing to do. I’ve heard about it before, even in Europe, but had never had the opportunity to try.


I had expected that Matt would have to come get me, but in fact I had to go find him at the internet cafe. Silly me: I’d underestimated my IT husband’s computer withdrawal. I think he would have been perfectly content to stay there all day!

We really liked the sweets shop, where all the snacks were stacked in tins. Pretty. Actually, sweets shops anywhere are pretty. It must be like working in a flower shop, surrounded daily by bright colored temptation.


We walked around for a while longer, then stopped at another pair of street stalls. I bought an iced drink and Matt picked up some fried miscellaneous things. Chicken, quail eggs in wonton wrappers, some kind of fish he spit out, and something else I don’t remember. We carried these back to the guest house, where we found Paola on her computer in the hotel lobby.

After a short rest, I decided to join the yoga lesson in the studio in the back garden. It’s been probably about 10 years since I last practiced yoga, but I’m generally pretty strong and flexible, so I figured what the hell. I need to work off some of Sompon and Jennifer’s food anyway. Matt napped, and Paola, Don and I joined the instructor and one other student.


An hour later I was smelly and pleased with myself, and there was just enough time to shower before Nik picked us up for dinner.

Dr. Nik (I don’t know his last name) was one of Matt’s dad’s students, back in the early/mid ’90’s. We met him in 2008 or so when he spoke at the first Robert Feigal Symposium (Matt should explain this, not me). He’s from Chiang Mai originally, so a few days before we traveled, we got in touch with him. Turns out, Chiang Mai being the small town it is, he also used to be the dentist for Sompon’s children.

Nik took us to his favorite restaurant, an open air seafood restaurant nearly in the Kalare night bazar. The staff all knew him, and the owner, an older woman with a wide smile and a lot of lipstick, came over to joke with him and say hello. The restaurant had a shallow trough running decoratively through it, and it was full of gorgeous and gigantic langoustines, which were certainly being scooped out to provide supper!

Nik chose everything, with our encouragement. This involved talking at length with our waitress, with quick asides to us. We had fresh mango shakes, Tom yum shrimp (sorry I forget what shrimp is in Thai, but I know it’s not gai, because that’s chicken; anyway, spicy shrimp soup), shrimp in chili jam, fried whole fish with a light sweet and sour sauce, soft shelled crabs in a pale yellow mellow curry (our favorite of the night), and cellophane noodles with grilled shrimp and a salsa-like green sauce for pouring over. Delicious! We offered to pay, especially as Nik had already offered to subsidize a Friday-Saturday adventure to Mae Hong Son, to see Lon cave, including eyeless fish, but he wouldn’t let us. He said our money’s no good here, and that he wouldn’t let the staff accept it. Besides, he seems to have a game going with the owner, where he tries to guess the cost of the meal. He said once he was only 10 baht off, which is pretty amazing since I’m not sure how closely our meal corresponded to the menu.


Nik was, unsurprisingly, a wonderful person to have met with. We vaguely remembered that from meeting him before. He’s incredibly enthusiastic about everything, warm, and very generous. I feel a little weird accepting his generosity, but I got the impression he would brook no argument. Matt says that it’s probably to do with his dad, and how well he cared for his international students. So, on Friday morning, a driver will pick us up from our guest house to drive us west.

Having started late for dinner due to Nik’s work schedule, it was also late by the time we were done eating. Matt suggested we walk home, rather than letting Nik drive us, which gave us the opportunity to stop in at C.E.C. Loikroh boxing stadium, where Don had mentioned he’d be watching Muay Thai this evening.

The stadium was in a pretty seedy part of town, or so I thought at the time. In daylight, it’s pretty normal. It’s in the center of a collection of small bars filled with girls and lady boys. We found a relatively quiet section, and ordered drinks while settling in to watch the fights. We saw 3 and one more that was more of a closing clown show than a real match.

The first was between a very muscular young man with a dark face and a friendly expression, and a slightly less muscular, paler young man. It wasn’t very exciting, but I was rooting for the muscular one and he won. I chose him because he was kind of funny when doing his warm-up stretches.

The second match was awesome. I had a hard time choosing which one I’d root for, but in the end I decided on the one in the white shorts. These two were extremely well-matched, and so it went on for quite a while. There were many excellent blows and kicks landed by both fighters.

Oh, I have I mentioned that I studied Muay Thai for about 6 years? I wasn’t very good in such a short time, but it gives me a pretty good sense of what I’m watching. By the end of the first fight I was feeling pretty enthusiastic, and remembering more of what I’m seeing.

Anyway, the second match. Good hits by both sides meant that I was not at all sure that I’d chosen the right guy, but in the end, he hit his opponent well enough that he went down against the ropes and stayed down. Stayed down so long, in fact, that several extra people jumped into the ring and my guy, white shorts, was also there, helping him up. He supported his opponent from the ring, before returning to thank the crowd. Here’s a picture of them earlier in the fight:


There was one more match (real match). These ones were taller. The more muscular one didn’t stretch or warm up at all, pre-match, so I chose the other guy. They were much more vicious, landing extremely hard kicks, punches and elbows from the very start. The one I’d selected had a grin on his face the entire time, but it was an angry grin, or so it seemed to me. He was slightly smaller, but he had better control. For a while, though, that didn’t seem to matter, because the bigger guy got in some really rough ones, including a time while they were locked, kneeing each other repeatedly in the ribs. In the end, however, my guy prevailed. But it was so mean by that point that I had mixed feelings as I clapped and cheered.

3 for 3, the fights were clearly over. All the Thai people left, and the last winner went around with a donation box (we’d also paid entry) while a older guy who’d been clowning around with the audience entered the ring with a young wiry guy. The waitresses and lady-boy waitresses dragged the chairs back to their bars while these 2 held a match that reminded me of world wrestling federation, lots of fake tosses, including over the ropes. It was fun and silly, but it was time to go.

We walked back to the guest house, cleaned up, and went to bed. Good night!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thailand day 7, last day of cookery school

Day 7. 25 Jan. 2011. A wander in the neighborhood then master class in the evening.

We didn’t set the alarm last night. It retrospect, we probably should have told Jennifer. She waited for us for breakfast. Last night there was a sound like someone taking a ridiculous long shower. Turn out the water boiler had burst. Overnight there was no water, and in the morning only cold. I washed with a cloth, since I hate cold showers.

Matt took leftover salad with him downstairs, planning to ask simply for a fork and plate to eat it with, but Jennifer offered food and so with some protest, we also got yoghurt with strawberries and maple syrup. Yum. But I still wasn’t hungry. I didn’t have the salad, just the yoghurt and some water.

Then we slathered on the sunscreen and asked to use the bicycles. Silly us; it was about noon. Hot hot hot! We were just getting ready to leave when Pon ran over to explain the bikes to us (typical oma fietsen) and check the tires. He decided we needed more air, pumped us up, made us demonstrate that we understood how to use the wheel lock, and then we set off.

We rode around the maze-like subdivision for a while, before stumbling on the front gate. We left the bikes there by the gatehouse with other bikes, and walked across the road to the market. It was nearly empty today. We’d been there the other night to get cash and it was packed. Today there were only a few stalls open. We walked down to a coffee cafe at the end of the adjacent strip mall, then wandered around the stalls briefly.

Behind the market, we saw another pleasant looking residential neighborhood, this one not gated, so we walked around in it for a while. Following up on our conversation about daily religion, we noticed that every yard or garden has a shrine of various size. These are always clearly tended with new incense and other fresh offerings, so clearly there is daily religious practice here.

We passed a free-range monk, then a medium sized wat complex. We wandered a little longer through the neighborhood before turning back.


The subdivision Sompon lives in is a big maze. We bicycled around it for a long time before we were able to find the house. There was enough time to shower (cold again) and relax before our class began.

Tonight we were the only students. First we made 3 pastes. Jennifer came out and chatted a bit with us as well. She was a tv chef in Beijing herself! Fusion Chinese.


After the pastes, we prepared:

Yummy pepper leaf appetizer- like the galloping horse of the night before, but more coconut.
Bombay curry- mild and tasty
White fish in curry and banana leaf- Sompon says he’s never taught anyone this one before. He will have to handwrite the recipe for us. Jennifer says it’s her favorite.
Beef salad- yum…
Minced meat patties on lemongrass skewers- yum again. Probably my favorite tonight.


After we cooked, Sompon and Jennifer left to go out for a belated birthday celebration, and we went to find Sue and Barbara to invite them to eat our feast with us. That helped. We nearly cleaned the plates this time!


There’s a new set of guests who’ve arrived. Australians named Lisa and Tom, brother and sister. They were enjoying their gourmet dinner as we padded upstairs to bed.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thailand day 6, double day at cookery school

Day 6, 24 Jan 2011. Day 1 of cookery school, and master class

Strangely, I woke up easily this morning. Earlier than my alarm. Dragged poor Matt out of bed and down to breakfast. He’s feeling a little sick this morning… Just a cold, but certainly not fun. Especially as we have 2 lessons today!

At breakfast, 2 new guests had arrived, older- middle-aged English ladies: Sue, who lives in France for 13 years now, and Barbara, who is quite talkative and sweet. Breakfast was the same as yesterday, too much, and they uniquely mentioned that they would simply ask for less in the future. Brilliant. It was Paola and Don’s last breakfast with us, too; they would be heading into the city around noon.

Here’s the fruit served this morning, rose apple, pomelo, papaya and oranges:


After breakfast, we went to the lesson area as students began to arrive. The place was crowded today, as it’s officially day 1 of the course: intro to Thai ingredients. Sompon had us all crowd into the demo room for a lengthy discussion.

Afterwards, we made:
1. Tom yam goong: Thai hot and sour prawn soup

Eat.

2. Gaeng kheo wan gai: green curry with chicken
3. Tord man plaa: Thai style fish cakes
4. Phad Thai

Eat.

5. Some kind of Laap, minced meat salad, but I can’t remember which, and it was not in the book.
6. Tab tim grob: water chestnuts with sugar syrup and coconut milk (my favorite today, surprising and refreshing!)

Eat.

Then we took an hour break before it was time for the master class. I planned to just bicycle around the neighborhood, but instead I wrote previous days of lj, in the room. Matt slept.

At about 4:45, we headed back downstairs. Sompon was prepping with some of his staff, whether for us or for tomorrow I wasn’t sure. Turns out both. We waited for the other student, who arrived shortly with her boyfriend and Pon. Letitia is a tiny (what is the appropriate word these days? Dwarf?) woman from the Philippines. Her boyfriend John is a gigantic tall and also heavy American man, from… And this is funny… Port Orchard, Washington.

In case you are reading this and don’t know already, I’m from Centralia, Washington. Centralia is maybe 1.5 – 3 hours max drive to Port Orchard, depending on traffic. Same general area. But what makes this funny to me is that on my last trip, in November, I also ran into a Port Orchard resident in an unlikely place. My layover in Albuquerque from Seattle to El Paso was delayed 6 hours, and I was having a burger and beer in the airport bar. A young man joined me for a couple of beers. He was from Port Orchard, but traveling between somewhere east and Denver.

Also, the Philippine community in Washington state all pretty much know each other, and both my sister in law and my dad’s current girlfriend are Filipinas, but it turns out Letitia actually lives in the Philippines, and John visits her there.

We also learned that it was Chef Sompon’s birthday. Letitia and John had brought a nice bottle of whiskey. This was letitia’s last day of the course; she’d done 5 days beginner (day) lessons, then 5 days master classes.

We then proceeded to make 2 kinds of curry paste, which we ground in mortars. At home I usually do this in the food processor, but this way makes a much better texture, so I think I will endeavor to do so in the future.


Then:

A soup with large chunks of fish and seafood (squid, blue crab), which was amazing.
Red curry with pork, also good.
Spicy prawn salad, which involved grilling the tiger prawns and then removing their shells while piping hot – my favorite salad so far!
Eggplant/ shrimp salad – also good.
Galloping horse: oh my god, this is so delicious. You make a gooey sweet/savory paste using caramelized palm sugar, fish sauce, dried baby shrimp, peanuts, and I don’t remember what else. Then you carve up pineapple and oranges into flat pretty shapes. Then you arrange a little pyramid of the goo onto each fruit piece, garnish with slivers of chili and crispy fried garlic and shallots (we did that too). Yum.

We ate dinner with Chang (beer).


We will get all the master class names and recipes later, so I can’t say for sure what all of these things were. Also, we EACH made enough for a family of 4. Letitia had John to help eat hers, and had brought Tupperware to share leftovers with the staff at their hotel. matt and I barely dented ours. We took some for leftovers, although Sompon thought this was pretty funny.

Then we staggered into the house and up to bed, vowing to take it easy tomorrow, when we’ll only have the master class!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thailand day 5, cookery school and artisan market

Day 5: 23 Jan. 2011 – Cookery school, also day 5

It wasn’t any easier waking up this morning. The alarm went off at 08:30 but I don’t think I was out of bed until 08:50, and Matt even later. Downstairs, we found Nog in the kitchen, prepping for kitchen. We met her yesterday when she brought in our cleaned laundry. Nog is from Myanmar, and she seems very sweet, but her English is limited to “coffee? Tea?” and “good morning.”

We went out to the breakfast area, but this morning it was mostly English breakfast, fried tomatoes, bacon, sausage, toast and fried egg, followed by strawberries in creamy yoghurt with a sweet black sauce that Jennifer identified as maple syrup, but which seems different. Then fruit plate. Papaya, oranges, dragon fruit, ummm. Yum.

There was a little time before the other students showed up, so I wandered the gardens a bit. Then we all sat down in the class dining area to learn to carve vegetables. We made roses and lotus flowers from tomatoes, and leaves from carrots.


Then it was time to cook. We made:

1. Tom jued: clear soup with minced pork

Eat.

2. Paw pia tord: fried spring rolls

Eat

3. Gaeng phed ped yang: red curry with roast duck
4. Gai phad king: chicken with ginger

Eat

5. Gai hor bai toey: chicken in pandanus leaves (fave today)
6. Khao neow mamuang: mango with sticky rice

Eat.


It’s 15:30 now and Pon will take us into town at 17:00, so I’m finally getting some time to blog. Apparently the market tonight is more a local artisan’s market, which I am greatly looking forward to.

Side note: it is REALLY hard not to put 2 spaces after a period. I was taught to do that in typing class in junior high. On a typewriter. Yes, really.

Note from later:
The Sunday night artisan market WAS great. When we got there it was pretty early, so uncrowded. There was a puppeteer near the entrance by the 3 kings monument, and a group of young people promoting AIDS prevention. One of them was dressed as a giant green condom, and was distributing free condoms. 🙂 All the young men in the group looked just slightly embarrassed.

The 4 of us meandered down the first stretch in order to determine a meeting place for later. On the way, I stopped and ordered an iced drink/dessert made with strong tea, canned milk, and cubes of a jelly made from some kind of herb. It was black. Tasty. After we split up, Matt and I wandered up and down, turning here and there. At one point, a song began over the loudspeakers and everyone was suddenly standing still at attention. It must have been the national anthem. I was very glad I noticed right away, as I saw many other groups of tourists taking much longer to figure it out. A little girl near us was energetically singing along, which was carrying well in the relative silence.


We bought a few things, a couple of pairs of pants and a bedspread. We tried various foods. I took pictures of some of the prettier foods. We also found more of the bamboo sticky rice, which we bought in order to also share with Don and Paola. One of my favorite things was a cold drink which was served in a bamboo “cup.” I couldn’t bear to throw the cup away when finished, so we went back to the man’s stall and gave it back.


There were musicians and performers. Quite memorably, one group of young men who had seated themselves in the middle of the walkway, in a line on the ground, playing pop cover songs. The singer was completely off-key. I’m not sure he even knew the songs, either!

We also passed a wat. Matt has been wondering that he doesn’t see religion as part of daily life visibly here, strangely, with all the monks and free-ranging monks around. (yes, that’s a joke. The mag on the plane referred to Chiang Mai’s “freely roaming monks,” and it sounded like free-range chickens to me… Should they be chained to the wat? 🙂 ). I saw numerous people stop to bow and clasp their hands at the Buddha statues around the wat or two.


Did I mention that although there were certainly tourists here, it was mostly packed with locals? Lots of locals. By 7:30 or so, you could barely move.

At 8:30, we met Don and Paola again, and they’d run into Mads and Julie, a Danish couple who’d left Sompon’s a day or so before we got there. We all went to a bar near where we’d arranged to meet Pon at 10. At the bar, the waitress tried to lure us into the small indoor space with n offer of 2 for 1 drinks, but the seating inside wasn’t great for 6 together, and we preferred outside. None of us really cared about the 2 for 1 offer anyway. I was toasted off just one zombie. Local rum is hardcore.


We met up with Pon, who drove us home. Long day, and tomorrow we have day and night courses!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thailand day 4, Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School

Day 4: 22 Jan. 2011. Also, coincidentally, day 4 of the course schedule

God it was hell waking up this morning. But we managed to make it downstairs where Pon found us. I immediately tripped down a step then walked into a tree. Good beginnings. We followed him past the swimming pool to the breakfast area, a nicely bowered nook between the pool and part of the back gardens. 3 people were already sitting there: a French guy named Jean-Luc, a Colombian named Paola, who lives in Colorado with her American boyfriend, Don. Jean-Luc was on his way, so we didn’t really get to know him, but Paola and Don will be here another couple of days. They’re on a year-long world tour!

Sompon served breakfast, although he was much more laid-back this morning. Joking and chatting a little. I’m glad, because I know I was out of it the night before, but I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable around him.

It was a LOT of food: rice soup with pork (like what we had yesterday, with all the same sides), coffee, more coffee, strawberries in creamy yoghurt with some dark thick sweet sauce, then a fruit plate. Dragon fruit, small oranges like mandarins, a plum-like thing with a pit that Paola and Don said would make us high if we ate it, although Pon later told us was the fruit of the cashew. I’m not sure. And mango, I think. I can’t remember.

After breakfast, Pon drove us to the local market where we joined the other students in a shopping trip with explanations. I really enjoyed the coconut demonstration. We saw them grate them for different purposes, including what ages of coconut are used for what, the peeling machine. How to make the cream and milk. We shopped for everything we’d need to do the day’s lessons.


(above, fly catching sticks from my workstation)
Then we returned to the school and made:

1. Phad siewe: fried big noodles with sweet soy sauce

Eat

2. Hor neung plaa: steamed fish in banana leaves


3. Gaeng garee gai: yellow curry with chicken
4. Gai phad med mamuang: chicken with cashew nuts

Eat

5. Plaah goong: spicy prawn salad north-eastern style (fave today)
6. Kluay buad chee: bananas in coconut milk

Eat.

It was 16:30 or so before we were all done, with only a short rest before Pon planned on taking us into town (17:30). There was quite a discussion as to what we would/should do and how late we should stay. Paola said she wanted an early evening, although she was planning on meeting friends from Australia in town. Matt wanted late. Don and I didn’t care. Pon wanted Matt and I to take our included massage first. Finally, the decision was: Paola and Don would be dropped off by a temple, then we’d be taken for our massage, then picked up and dropped off at our 10pm meeting point, at a street market. Great.

The massage was honestly the worst Thai massage I’ve had (1 in Turkey, 2 in Holland, 2 counting this one in Thailand). Too soft. Predictably, Matt liked his very much. He usually does prefer more gentle. I was really surprised yesterday when he liked it. Glad, though, since I’m enrolled to learn how soon!

After, we walked up and down the market. It was ok, but very tourist-oriented. Matt bought a couple of notebooks, and I bought a pair of fisherman’s pants. They’re nice for wearing during the massage. I want at least 2 pair for when I begin to practice it. I didn’t bother haggling, for a couple of reasons: 1) I didn’t have anything smaller than a 1000-baht bill (about 25euros), 2) it only cost 190 baht, just under 5 euros, and 3) surely they’re worth that much to me. Matt made fun of me, though, because he thinks of me as an awesome haggler. I just didn’t see the point.


Matt got brave and went to one of the stands catering more to the stall-holders than the tourists, and managed to get an iced milky tea. He also ate (ate! More!) soup, like what we’d had just before the hot springs yesterday, at another stand. I wasn’t hungry, had a watermelon shake.


I haven’t been doing too well with squat toilets this time. Everything was fine in morocco and turkey, but for some reason I’m really struggling here. Too much splashing. Could it be a different shape? I don’t know. But anyway, I went to the public toilet at the market, which was extremely clean, and was almost finished when a large part of the stream bounced back out and landed all over my left foot, pooling around my toes in my sandal. Nice. Most squat toilets have a water bucket beside them, for flushing after, but this one had it’s own flush handle, so there was nothing to wash my foot with. I ended up flushing twice while holding my foot under the flush water. Then I sloshed out, asked matt if he had any tissues left in his pocket (I’d run out), dried my foot, washed my hands, and we continued on our way.

But I was a little grumpy for the rest of the time, even during cocktails.


Got home around 10:45 or so, read a little, fell asleep. Did I mention the roses in our room?


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thailand day 3, return to modern living

Day 3: 21 Jan. 2011

I woke up around 2am because I had to pee, and thank you jet lag, I didn’t fall back asleep. Around 05:00 I took out my earplugs, and the snoring from either Pat or Ae through the wall was earth-shaking. Poor Matt! No earplugs… I’m surprised he slept at all. Our alarm woke him shortly after, and we got up and had hot ginger drink before driving up the road a little way, where a food stalls were set up across from a Thai tourist destination: the view of sunrise over the northern mountains.

The gathering was quite sweet: a number of travelers, mostly from the south, plus local food vendors and a few pair of novice monks, offering prayer chants in exchange for a donation. Matt gave one pair a donation, and they asked him if he wanted a prayer, which Pat translated and told them no. When I laughed and said I didn’t see why not, he got quite upset… That it wasn’t our religion and if we didn’t know the culture properly we shouldn’t. To a degree, I can sympathize, but i also mentioned that I’m not a Christian either, if I turned down every well-intentioned prayer said on my behalf by christian priests and believers, I’d ruffle a lot of feathers. Besides, he didn’t ask. No reason we might NOT have been Buddhists, simply awkward with some aspects or new to it. Anyway.


We crossed the road and followed a path to watch the sunset. Many others were there with us, and we took pictures and posed with various people. One group was schoolteachers from the south, all of whom spoke passable English, so it was nice to speak with someone else for awhile.


The view was incredible, even though the sun didn’t do quite what Pat was hoping for. He was quite disappointed. Also amazing was the collection of viewers, all lined up along the ridge.


When we went back across the road, the food stalls were packing up but other local vendors had shown up to sell various souvenirs. There was even a man giving children rides on his mule.


We headed back to the hotel, where it was time for breakfast. By this point I was in dire need of coffee and grumpy. All the other guests were lined up to spoon rice-chicken soup from a large pot, but Pat insisted that we have our own private pot at a table. It arrived, along with some sweet toast, but no coffee! Finally the coffee came, and I drank 2 cups with some relief


We checked out, and it was time to go. Matt and I had a chat and decided that in order to cut the day a little shorter we’d skip some plans along the way, so the first thing we cut out was a tour of “the king’s project,” a huge organic farming project to try to teach the tribal people a different way of farming rather than opium poppies. Interesting, but we were tired and wearying of Pat’s lecturing tone.


Instead, we headed directly for the border with Myanmar, which was quite interesting. There were many soldier checkpoints, and all in all it was an interesting drive through a beautiful and rustic landscape. At the border itself was a souvenir market, a soldier camp, bunkers and razor wire. Across no man’s land we could see 2 Myanmar soldier camps as well.


In the market I went to watch an old woman weave scarves, and a younger woman grabbed me and led me to another loom, where she showed me how to do it. I did a few passes, and Matt and Pat arrived. Again, Pat seemed irritated about what I was doing. I’m not sure why. Control issues? I certainly wasn’t “taking advantage” of anyone, since I’d only gone to watch, and they also weren’t. Obviously, she wanted to sell me a scarf after, which of course I bought, but she quoted the same price Pat had earlier mentioned to expect, 100 baht, so I can’t think of anything other than perhaps he’d intended us to buy from someone else particularly, and that was no longer likely.


Next we drove to another village, where the people all wore colorful sarongs and also lived in slightly different stilt houses. I can’t remember what tribe it was, but other than the clothing, I would think it was the Akha, although perhaps I’m confusing some memories from the day before. Maybe the colorful sarongs were on the Karen people yesterday. I’m writing this a few days later, and I’m not entirely sure.

It was a strange visit. There was a school, but I could see that the children were working, so I requested that we not go in. Then 2 small boys started following us around with baskets full of bracelets to sell. We walked downhill along a dirt road where an old woman was braiding bracelets. Pat asked if we could see inside her house, a stilt house, and she didn’t mind, so we went in. We took off our shoes at the bottom of a rough ladder, and after greeting her on her terrace, we ducked inside. It was dark and cool, and the floor bowed slightly beneath our feet. There were 2 sleeping areas on each side of the house, which was quite small and open, and a cooking area in the middle. Utensils and other tools hung neatly from storage along the walls and ceiling.


Afterwards, Matt bought a large amount of bracelets from her, and also from one of the little boys, and we went back to the truck. There was a woman there, and Pat asked her something about a basket that apparently she makes. She put her other goods down with another woman, and ran off down the path, presumably to get it. Matt’s theory about Pat is that he’s a bit ADD, because before she could return, he decided we should go.

Next stop was a normal farmer’s market, a Hmong community. We had a look at the vegetables and other products, and bought some drinking spoons from a woman at the end.

On the way back towards Chiang Mai, we stopped for jujube fruits, which are like apples, but crunchier and juicier, and more uniform in size and color, bright pale green. Yum. Next to the jujube stand was a field growing very long squash. I thought they were beans, and the looked like snakes. At another spot we stopped at a place that makes bamboo sticky rice. Unfortunately, the proprietess explained that today was the workers’ day of f, so we couldn’t see it. Basically, you fill a bamboo pole with sticky rice and coconut milk, block the open end with coconut fibers, and leave it overnight. In the morning, you grill it over an open pit. Cool. Then peel back the bamboo stalk and break off sticky rice with your fingers to eat. Since she didn’t have any today, we found others for sale at another roadside stand, with a super friendly old man who thought it was hilarious to watch us eat them. 🙂


Nearer to Chiang Mai, we decided to stop to go on an elephant ride, at a place where all the mahouts own their own elephants. We paid to ride the elephant then the oxcart, and yes it was touristic, but it was also nice. It took about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. When we got back, we learned that Pat had arranged something cool. He’d arranged with one of the mahouts that we could ride another elephant without a seat over to the area where the twin baby elephants and their mother were kept. Getting on was fun, riding was fun, and playing with the babies was fun. One of them liked to twine it’s trunk around my arm. It was very cool that Pat had been able to arrange that for us!


We were pretty tired after, and went first for lunch, where we had a noodle soup with pork, then to a hot springs park. They had a swimming pool, so Matt and I swam for awhile while Pat got a massage. I think Ae napped in the trunk the whole time.

That done, we arranged for them to drop us off at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, our accommodations with the chef for the next 5 days, which was total culture shock. Inside a gated community, past an equestrian center then a tennis court, we came to a huge white mansion next to a sprawling and beautiful open-air cooking school. We were met at the driveway by Jennifer, who turned out to be Sompon’s (the chef) wonderfully gracious Chinese wife. Sompon had students busy with the master class, but also popped out to greet us. Jennifer led us into the sumptuous house, upstairs to our room, and asked if we wanted to eat our “gourmet meal” (part of the stay/study package) this evening. Still shocked, we said sure and took showers. Shortly after, there was a knock on the door and Pon came in, to give us the info we would need, collect payments, and introduce himself, while taking us downstairs for dinner.

Pon is one of the main staffers here, so far as I can tell. He’s here in the mornings to help us with anything. He’s around helping everyone during the lessons as well, and even leads some lessons. He drives us into town in the evenings, picks us up whenever we’ve arranged later, and sets up anything we ask about. and he’s really really funny.

For dinner, he led us downstairs to a beautiful dining room, where Sompon served us first a pair of gorgeous appetizer’s: pineapples and oranges with a crunchy sweet gooey paste on top and crispy garlic and shallots on that, another similar with pepper leaves, which I adored. Then a tray with chicken, I think, made into meatballs (kind of), skewered on lemongrass and grilled. Then a dark red curry with beef, a spicy salad, and something else I think. Then dessert was sticky rice with mango. Good thing I was hungry, but I was still full!

I’m pretty sure I had bad sunstroke, because Matt said I was barely coherent by the time I passed out in bed.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thailand day 2, from Chiang Mai to points north!

Day 2: 20 Jan. 2011: Matt’s birthday!

Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke up. Typical jet lag. Hurray for sleeping pills, I fell right back asleep. Woke up to Matt’s alarm at 08:00, time enough for breakfast and checkout before being picked up by our guide for an abbreviated hill tribe village tour. (We’d originally wanted 5 days, but time constraints limited us to 2.)

As it turned out, it was a guide, Pat, himself of Shan descent, originally a tuk-tuk driver in Chiang Mai, and a driver, Ae, about whom we never learned much. Pat talked nearly incessantly in a very strong accent, hard to interpret. Ae spoke seldom, but was usually much more interesting and much less didactic.

I chose this tour operator because he proclaimed “responsible tourism” and “giving back to the community.” As it turned out, this seemed to be more about making us feel like rich and callous foreigners. More on that later.

First, we got gas, which we paid for, 2200 baht. Then for some reason he took us to Tiger Kingdom, which was ok. The tigers were gorgeous and seemed well taken care of, but it wasn’t really what I had in mind. We paid for tickets to go in and touch the “middle” tigers, about 2 years old. Brother and sister. They are SOFT! I really didn’t know. We also looked at the babies, 4 months old. So cute!


When we were getting ready to leave, Pat’s girlfriend Mel called. She wanted to let me know the price for the 2 days and to warn me that we’d have to be quite firm with Pat about what we did or did not want to do. I was glad, too, because he next tried to take us to Orchid World, or some such. I said no, and we went into the hills.

First stop, a slightly pretty stream the road passed over. I’m not sure why we stopped there. Smoke break? Then higher up to a Hmong village. Very nice view there, and wonderfully sweet people, but then, no different from the Hmong I’ve known throughout the years. We spoke with some women outside a shop, who were really impressed that I can say hello and count to six in their language. They tried to teach me 7-10, and maybe I remember. Maybe not! One of them has a sister in St. Paul, and wanted to know, half-jokingly, if she could go back with us. I didn’t bother to explain that we live now in Amsterdam. Maybe Pat did, but may she wouldn’t have cared.


The village was very pleasant, and the people seemed poor but not dreadfully poor. They were happy and relaxed, going about their business while we wandered around. We were the only outsiders there, and I didn’t get the impression they get many.

We went to the school, where I was glad to find we were only disturbing their lunch. The different classes were lined up outside the lunch hall as we climbed the hill, and by the time we got there they were mostly inside. The principal and one of the teachers were overseeing the progression in. The oldest students were monitoring the lunchroom. Everyone had a tray with rice, sauce and egg, which looked very tasty, and water.


At this point, Pat pissed me off. There was, next to the lunchroom, a small snack shop where older students were selling sweet drinks and snacks. Without asking us, Pat bought there entire stock, had them load it into baskets, and told us to distribute it to the children. His reasoning was that he was supporting the community and paying more for the treats than they were worth. However, there were clearly not enough to go around, and I would have preferred to discuss this idea first with the teachers, having been a teacher myself. However, with a basket of drinks forced on me in front of a large room filled with excited children, I was in an awkward position. Pat became impatient and pushed me towards a table. Predictably, we ran out. The children who missed out looked pretty disgruntled. Which sucked.


Then we wandered around to the classrooms and spoke a bit with the principal and another of the teachers, both of whom were eager to show off their couple of English phrases. The classrooms were quite pleasant and showed Thai and some English lessons. We watched the children playing on the playground, then left.

We drove down down, and stopped at another village’s market for lunch, where we ate papaya salad, sticky rice dipped in sticky chili paste, BBQ chicken, pork rinds and rice water. We wandered the market briefly and ate an ice cream sandwich: 2 slices of sweet bread with a scoop of sticky rice and 3 scoops of ice cream. Weird but tasty!


The next village we went to was a Karen village. The people there had beautiful stilt homes. We stopped to see some knife baskets an old man was weaving, and wandered down through the village, from terrace to terrace. Most of the people were quite shy or busy elsewhere, but 2 young women with 2 old women showed off their babies and chattered a bit with Pat, who explained almost none of it.


From there, we drove back southeast towards Chiang Mai again in order to drive North to the border. On the way we stopped for pomelos along the road.


We got to a small tourist town for Thai tourists around dark, checked into a fascinating terraced “resort” hotel, and went down to the hotel’s outdoor restaurant, where Pat had already ordered a meal. We walked through a group of women dancing and singing karaoke, who smiled happily. It turns out they were having a post new-year company party (local new year was a week or so ago).

Dinner was: 2 types of chicken bone curry, 1 unidentified leafy green with chili (quite yummy), a soup with bok choy, and rice. And Singha and Leo beers.


After dinner we walked down to the market, where Pat greeted a frien and bought a baby-carry cloth for a sister or cousin. We drank delicious hot Ginger drink. (oh, by the way, it was quite cold in the north.) Then Pat took us to light lanterns for good birthday luck (me too), which we watched sail quite far. You make a wish just as you let them go. That was very cool. Pat said that when a million are released from Chiang Mai during some festival or another, everyone wishes that they come down far away. 🙂 because they are burning paper hot air balloons.


We were tired after dinner, but the party was still going on below us in the restaurant and next door Pat was arguing with Mel on the phone about his computer problems, so I was very glad I had earplugs! After a long hot shower I layered on my clothes, put in my earplugs, and was asleep even before Matt was out of the shower!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thailand day 1, from Amsterdam to Chiang Mai.

Day 1: 18/19 Jan. 2011

Easy beginnings. Usually whenever Matt and I fly anywhere we end up with early flights, but this time our flight didn’t leave until 13:00 on Tuesday. We took a cab to the airport because we didn’t want to pack coats, and it was a chilly rainy morning.

Aeroflot to Moscow. About 3 hours. Food was seriously disgusting (Matt had the fish, I had the meat), but the plane was comfortable. Moscow airport was as expected: we stood in a line to show a staffer our ticket, which she confirmed was a ticket, then we stood in a line to go through passport control, then a line for security (although we’d just come off a plane with nothing but a short no-access corridor in between), then a pretty boring waiting area. I was glad I’d chosen the slightly later connecting flight, or we probably wouldn’t have made it. We heard the flight that was our best option normally leaving while we waited for passport control. Russian lines. Sigh.

Aeroflot to Bangkok. About 9 hours. Again, food rotten, otherwise fine. I took a sleeping pill and conked out. Woke up for coffee.

Bangkok airport is lovely. Shrines, gardens, smiling people who clasp their hands together like prayer to say hello or thank you. I had a little misunderstanding in the toilet, with the cleaners, but took nicole’s advice (Dutch woman who will be teaching me to do Thai massage soon) and kept on smiling, smiling, smiling. This, by the way, is completely opposite Russia, where we’ve been told not to, as it makes us look nervous and sneaky. Easy transfer procedures collecting baggage and rechecking on Bangkok Airways to Chiang Mai.

About 1 hour to Chiang Mai. We were served lunch, a quite tasty sandwich. Nice service, friendly.

We arrived around 13:30 on wednesday. At the Chiang Mai airport, a man was waiting for us from our guest house, SK House 2. He and his very tattooed cohort led us to an open-ended pickup truck with 2 benches lining the covered bed (typical transport, the thai name means 2-bench), and we climbed in for the short ride.

For a 400-baht guesthouse (10 euros), the place was pretty nice: big room with private shower/wc, free transport from airport, swimming pool, nice roof terrace, and free wifi in the cafe/lounge area downstairs. We fell asleep immediately.

We woke up around 19:00, took showers, and wandered to find dinner. First we walked a bit, then went back to the first place we’d passed, a local-looking place serving fried big noodles with pork (me), meekrob (Matt), and fruit “shakes,” which really just means fresh fruit, ice, and water blended together. Matt had lemon, I had watermelon.

Then we wandered around with criteria: we would get a massage when we passed a place with 2 people sitting visibly available, and we’d stop for a cocktail if we saw froofroo beach drinks with umbrellas.

We had to revise the cocktail plans. We saw a lot of people drinking wine with dinner. Eventually we found a cozy cafe down an alley where we had drinks, then we wandered until the massage criteria were met.

It was a wonderful massage. Even matt liked it! I was a bit surprised, because usually he likes gentle massages, more for relaxation than for therapy. Thai massage is my favorite… I like the stretching and massage combo. I’ll be studying it in a couple of weeks. In fact, one of my teachers is here now… I’m going to try and meet up with him while I’m here, but we’ll have to see.

After the massage we walked back to SK House 2 and slept. Again.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad