Cooking, Eating, and Making Ourselves at Home.
Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
45Trip End Feb 13, 2011
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Mark and I have been kicking back in the north of Thailand for nearly three weeks now. The train from Ayuthaya took 11 hours to get to the city of Chiang Mai and being the economical (i.e. cheap) backpackers we are, we chose to take the slightly cheaper day train as opposed to the overnight sleeper. What a mistake-ah to make-ah!
The train was quite late which meant standing on a crowded platform in the baking heat with our backpacks on. To say we were a tad sweaty would be an understatement, and to say we were a little crabby from the early morning start would be even more so. So we stood in a sensible near-silence alternating between checking the clock and watching various old ladies with baskets of fresh produce, stray dogs, even children scampering up and down the train tracks in front of us
Eventually the train arrived - we struggled up the steep ladder-esque steps to board and (literally) squeezed ourselves through the narrow old-fashioned doors to find our seats. The train itself was fine - a bit shabby and a little dated - and our moods began to lift as we sat under a welcome ceiling fan and spotted a snack trolley coming our way! We were told our day ticket included free snacks and drinks throughout the journey (more money saved!) Alas, when I tried the airline style plate of rice and chicken put before me, my taste buds were promptly singed from my mouth by the excessive spice and I couldn't eat a thing!
The next 11 hours passed with few incidents to pass the time. A few card games between Mark and myself, a lot of reading and lots of time spent watching eager (desperate) on-board smokers hanging out the end of the carriage with only a tiny strip of metal to stand on whilst we sped on.
The scenery was pretty impressive, miles and miles of lush green. At first mainly paddy fields scattered with one or two straw hatted locals bent double tending to them
On reflection, if I hadn't been so hungry throughout, the journey might not have dragged quite as much as it did, next time I will definitely remember to bring snacks!
We arrived in Chiang Mai at around 10pm and piled into a "sorng-taa-ou" which is basically like a miniature pick-up truck with a roof over the back portion and benches for passengers. They're shared taxis which collect people who are all going in the same direction and once we were dropped at the top of the road where our hostel was...the heavens opened! So we trudged along in the dark with our backpacks until we arrived disheveled and dripping in the reception of our hostel at around 11pm. The place we'd booked had a big restaurant area which was dark and deserted at this time but given how hungry I was I asked if they were still serving food and the owner (who was a quite dour German guy) was nice enough to offer to cook for us himself as his chef had gone home! Cue two MASSIVE fry ups laden with German cold meats as well as bacon, German sausage, 2 types of cheese, eggs and a whole hot baguette
We spent the next few days getting a feel of the city (i.e. being a bit lazy!) and didn't exert ourselves any more than the effort it took to stumble out of our hostel to the various amazing food stalls in the area and once or twice to visit the walking market.
The walking market was pretty amazing, whole networks of streets are closed off as locals set up their stalls offering everything from touristy souvenirs to authentic carvings/materials made by the hill tribes. There are also a large number of people begging in the streets - most of whom are severely disabled, and in many cases brutally deformed in various ways. There are also a lot of very young children (some barely toddlers) who 'busk' doing anything from dancing to hula-hooping for money. It's quite sad but unfortunately a way of life here. I suppose in a way they're lucky to live in a place that has so many tourists - it means they can collect more money than perhaps elsewhere in the country.
As is the case everywhere in Thailand, food is also a big draw in the market. The smells vary from the mouthwatering to the gut wrenching as you wander past fresh waffle or sweet rice stalls to those selling dried squid on sticks or bizarre black vegetable jelly
During the day the city of Chiang Mai is very chilled out despite the plethora of tuk tuks bombing up and down the streets as well as a ridiculous amount of scooters. Everyone drives scooters here, you see pensioners with baskets full of produce for sale, teenagers sitting four to a seat, housewives with the weekly shop and even full family's with babies perched at the front just holding onto the handlebars!
Despite what most guidebooks say about it being an 'authentic' retreat from the tourist trail - this is definitely NOT true. The streets are lined with guest houses and tour booking agencies and everywhere you look has posters for jungle treks or elephant rides. The thing Chiang Mai has the biggest abundance of however is rich backpackers! Apart from a small percentage of elderly western ex-pats (90% of which are aging men with pretty young Asian 'partners'), it seems that the rest of the visitors here are upper middle class 'trustafarians' who refer to their parents as "mummy and daddy" in the many web chats I've overheard and feel like an ensuite with merely a shower and no bath is 'roughing it'.
Despite trying to separate ourselves from the swarm of flash-packers by eating in local food stalls (funnily, none to be found there!) and visiting the free sights like temples, we finally did succumb to the tourist trap and book an excursion through a tour agency
The course turned out to be really good fun! We visited a local market first to buy the ingredients and learn to identify different types of rice, as well as smell all the herbs and spices we'd be using. The cooking itself was not as easy as I thought, after a lot of preparation there were multiple piles of chopped and ground things which had to be thrown into the pan in quick succession but all in the right order! Our instructor would shout military style CURRY PASTE, NOW...NOODLES... NOW...NO!!....NOT CHICKEN YET!!! It was quite stressful!
At the end however we got to eat everything we cooked - all SEVEN courses - and they were all delicious (even if i do say so myself!). Needless to say at the end we were ready to burst! After the course we were given a recipe book so we can have a go at recreating the dishes at home, without the adrenalin induced by someone shouting at me constantly I'm not sure how I'll do, although I'm sure they'll be plenty of volunteers to let me know(!)
After two weeks of making ourselves at home here (the lady in the local food market around the corner knows our lunch order by heart now) we decided to head further north to Pai before we started putting down roots! This has been such a long entry - we'll write about our adventures in Pai separately, however after only a few days up there, here we are back in Chiang Mai again!
The lady in the food place was very pleased to see us when we got back, as were the people in our hostel (now giving us a special discount, as long as we 'don't tell anyone else about it') and the various other characters we've come to know on a day-to-day basis like the lady in the Internet cafe and the staff in the 7/11.
We're going to relax here for a few more days (hopefully sorting out our visa extension at the same time) before heading south again - and before we're so settled we start hearing the 'Cheers' theme tune when we walk into the food place around the corner!