Thailand - Chiang Mai

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

With Verdi blowing chunks for most of the night, we awoke having had very little sleep - perfect for the forthcoming flight to Chiang Mai. That rough, groggy feeling was to become the theme for the rest of the day.
We had planned to go to the well-known Sunday walking market in Chiang Mai, for once our timing had been lucky and we arrived that afternoon. Unfortunately the sick puppy was in no state to be leaving the bed, let alone traipsing around a bustling market, filled with strange smells and sights, in the nighttime heat.
We had checked into the Golden Cupids Hotel and immediately received a warm welcome (and a very firm handshake) from the hotels diminutive director, Peppe. The hotel is a fair way out of the centre of Chiang Mai and set in a small rural area surrounded by fields and farmland. The hotel is a beautiful, colonial French place with just 10 rooms and a family-run feel (PICS).
After a blow-your-ears-off spicy dish of chicken with hot basil (Verdi's eyes were watering and she didn't even eat any of it!) we retired to our room for the night for Verdi to continue her recovery.
A sumptuous breakfast was laid out for us the following morning; amazingly fresh juice, tea, coffee, toast, superb homemade jams, yoghurt, fresh fruit and a choice of extra 'pay for' breakfasts were on offer and we (well Andrew) stuffed ourselves silly.
We ventured into the centre of Chiang Mai, a 20-minute taxi ride from the hotel. Our first stop was the Laos Airlines office to organise our flights in and out of Laos (their website doesn't allow online bookings) and we then jumped into a Song-Taew to get into the walled city. A Song-Taew is essentially a small four-wheel vehicle with an open-air cab and benches for seats - it's the transport of choice for most locals.
Verdi was still 'fragile' with the cold sweats, sickness, dizzy spells and a thumping headache so we had to keep stopping to sit down whenever we found somewhere air conditioned. We stopped at the Three Kings Monument and hoped to visit the Arts & Cultural Centre (PICS) behind it which looked turned out that it's closed one day a week...the day we were there! (Monday)
The walled city of Chiang Mai has 5 gates around the perimeter to allow access to vehicles and pedestrians (PICS). The rest of the area surrounding the walls is made up of a large moat with various fountains sporadically dotted throughout. We walked along the main streets in the walled city and called into a tour operator to book a trip to the nearby hilltribes.
Whilst wandering through the streets we stopped to ponder over our street map and Andrew spotted a weird green creature robotically shuffling along the pavement. On closer inspection Andrew recognised it as a praying mantis - completely out of place on a city sidewalk! (PIC)
Verdi wasn't getting any better while we were out in the stifling heat so we headed back to the hotel and relaxed, taking advantage of the great food at the hotel restaurant. Whilst eating, another guest, a chef from Australia, came down to compliment Peppe on the superb food - saying her Red Snapper was the best fish he had ever had! With such a compliment Andrew decided he would have to try it before we left!
The tour company we had booked our trip with weren't prepared to pick us up from our hotel (without a huge additional charge) so we had to find our own way there. Luckily one of Peppe's daughters dropped us off on her way to the market. It was an early start and we ended up waiting for the tour bus that had been sent to the wrong place to meet us - great start! The minibus was packed, with 12 Westerners over-filling the 12 'Thai-sized' seats and a sub-standard air-con failing to keep us cool.
After an hours discomfort we burst out of the bus and into an Orchid and Butterfly farm (PICS). Nobody on the trip was bothered about being there - it wasn't mentioned on our itineraries and wasn't even that interesting. The orchids were few and far between and the small butterfly enclosure housed what can only be described as a selection of large brown moths!
Back in the cramped very-mini-bus we embarked on another hours drive to Chiang Dao Caves (PICS). On entering the damp, dark space Verdi started to feel very ill (continued symptoms from the food poisoning) so didn't hang about once given the cue to start heading out. The caves didn't really have much going for it; a few statues and shrines and some unimpressive rock formations. Apparently, during wet season much of the cave is flooded and only the most devout Buddhists make the pilgrimage to the furthest prayer spots.
We quick-marched back to the minibus to get a normal seat rather than the bumpy, cramped back row, spending the next leg of the journey chatting to Shane & Vicky, an English couple who were in Thailand on a three week holiday. This helped to distract Verdi from the building nausea.
An hour's drive to a restaurant for lunch and then yet another hour in the back row of the bus saw us reach the hill tribe village near the Burmese border. The village is set up for three local tribes to sell their wares. The tribes all originated from Burma and crossed over to Thailand as refugees many decades ago. Each tribe has a very distinctive appearance with each look passed down through the generations.
The "Longneck ladies" with their elongated necks wrapped in golden rings, the "Long-ear ladies" with their stretched ear-lobes filled with wooden discs, and the "Red Karen tribe" with their disturbingly stained teeth (caused by chewing on a bitter nut as a substitute for toothpaste), were all extremely friendly and had no problem with hoards of pasty white aliens pointing their cameras and flashing away (PICS).
Each of these forms of adornment is seen as a sign of beauty to the men in the tribes (who don't have to do any such 'self-enhancement'). The Longneck ladies, whose neck jewellery is actually a long coil rather than individual rings, add one more layer every 2 years. They only take it off to clean, with the help of another tribe member, and never leave it off for more than a day. We also noticed that some tribeswomen also put the coils around their legs. The women start this ritual at around the age of 4 years and it looks very unnatural to see the young girls with their elongated necks, sitting patiently while foreigners take their photos. We couldn't help but do the same, though making sure we asked before snapping.
Before leaving the village we haggled a bit and bought a few souvenirs. The prices were actually very reasonable, although everything initially started at 100 Thai Baht (1.50) - no matter what you wanted. This became a bit of a running joke, especially when tiny little kids would quote "100 Baht, 100 Baht" for the tiniest little trinkets.
A 3-hour journey back to our hotel and Verdi could barely move her neck. Enter a trained Thai Masseur, who quickly went to work on Verdi for half an hour and sorted it out in no time. Not bad for less than 3!
Even before we left on this long trip around the world there were a list of things that we definitely wanted to do. One of these things was for Andrew to take a Thai cookery course and we took that opportunity whilst in Chiang Mai. Golden Cupids Hotel run a half-day course and their food was so good that Andrew decided this was the place to learn how to cook some of it.
Peppe took us to the local food market early in the morning and helped us to pick up all the ingredients we needed for the four dishes Andrew had chosen to cook. Andrew had to order each of the ingredients in Thai, ask how much they were and pay with the correct money - all in a foreign tongue! It was a good job Peppe was there to help, as Andrew had no idea what he was saying! (PICS)
The market also had a massive range of flowers at an unbelievable price. Peppe bought a bunch of over 2-dozen perfect red roses, and a bunch of stunning Lotus flowers and this came in at less than 1! (PIC) Verdi wished she could get them at that price in the UK!
We also popped to the local supermarket to get a few extras and Peppe bought us a couple of local ingredients for us to take home - things that we wouldn't find in the UK or would be 10 times the price if we were lucky enough to hunt them down.
Back at the hotel Andrew set about preparing all the ingredients for the dishes. Thai cookery is all about the preparation - and it took about 2 hours to prepare it all (PIC). The subsequent cooking part only took about 15 minutes and we were ready to give it a try. The portions that Andrew made were enormous and we shared the food with Peter (Peppe's English husband) who commented that the food was great. In all, Andrew made a Papaya Salad (fiery), Chicken Parcels, Thai Green Curry, and Chicken and Cashew nuts. They were all delicious (even if Andrew does say so himself) and he will definitely be making them again when we return home.
We recovered from the belt-busting meal by getting a Thai massage in our hotel room. The masseurs found it highly amusing when they tried to get Andrew into position, as he was too tall to fit onto the bed properly. The masseur had to lie Andrew diagonally and then struggled further when she tried to massage the bottom of his foot while his leg was vertical - it was taller than her!
Verdi's massage was VERY painful but relieving, she was still recovering from the food poisoning and accompanying stiff neck. Both massages were individually tailored to our problems, responding to what they found rather than a standard 'one- massage, routine & technique fits all' approach. It was excellent value at 4.50 each for an hour.
We relaxed further by having a dip in the hotel pool and then Andrew finally got to sample the Red Snapper - it was as good as the Aussie chef had said!
As we prepared for checking out we had a leisurely breakfast and watched the latest couple of people getting ready for their cookery lesson. They had just returned from the market and had bought a few nibbles. We were offered a sample and found it hard to turn down the chance to try the kind of snack that you wouldn't find in the UK - Mango Caterpillars and Silk Worms! Delicious! (PIC)
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