Cooking up a storm in Chiang Mai!
Trip Start Nov 06, 2012
30Trip End Feb 01, 2013
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Chiang Mai was very similar to Luang Prabang in that there are temples everywhere. You cannot walk down a street without walking past one or glimpsing the roof of one or the now familiar orange robes. We spent some time wandering the streets and popping into a handful of temples. We were also in the town on a Sunday evening and so got to experience the “Walking St Market”, which was great, complete with stalls selling fried edible insects. Made even more interesting by experiencing the abrupt silence when the National Anthem started playing on the public speaker system
We were in Chiang Mai for New Year’s Eve and decided to celebrate it at the Wat Phan Tao, which is a small temple, the prettiest we came across in Chiang Mai. We’d originally planned to kickstart the evening by going out for dinner but, on our way out, were accosted by the three girls and three guys who worked at our guesthouse and invited to join them for dinner. They had cooked up a feast for themselves and for the guests and we thought it would be rude to say no - and we’re so pleased that we didn’t.
While being “force fed” a lot of food, we had one of the most entertaining, touching experiences of our trip. While an older woman looked on lovingly (we assumed she was in fact the owner of where we were staying), the six workers took it in turns to continue cooking food on a hotplate (we would say for the guests, but it was for them and for us as we were the only guests at this stage!), while chatting away animatedly. We had no idea what they were saying, but it was clear that they all got on very well and reminded us of university halls. As they were still working, every time one of them got up to answer the phone, get a room key for a guest or get more supplies for the table, one of the others would top up their drink (which was strawberry flavoured Mai Tais for the girls and beer or some dubious looking Thai whisky and coke for the boys) with a completely different drink. The end results were some rather interesting alcoholic concoctions.
We were there for some time and couldn’t understand how they, the girls especially, could eat so much food (for they were constantly eating) and be as skinny as they were
One of the guys, who was fairly tanked up on whisky, was telling us that one of his New Year resolutions was to put on more weight (he was a fairly skinny chap) in order to look like a baby elephant. He then pointed at A and said “just like you”. Charming.
After some time, more guests appeared from their rooms and had their dinner plans hijacked (in a good way!) and so we thought it would be a good opportunity to have a break from eating and make our way out into the streets. Even though it was still relatively early, the sky was peppered with paper lanterns that were being released by people all over the city. It was beautiful. En route to Wat Phan Tao, we popped in to a small bar for a couple of drinks, where, yet again, we were served up a complimentary plate of food. We ate as much as we could as we didn’t want to appear rude, but we struggled!
Before popping in to Wat Phra Tao, we headed next door to Wat Chedi Luang from where we could hear some chanting. We stood back and watched as hundreds of people, of all ages, made their prayers for the new year. As we walked into the grounds of our Wat of choice, the monks had already lit the candles in the stream and around the tree. It was beautiful: to our left, the flickering lights of hundreds of candles and the bright colours of the lanterns hanging from the tree; to our right, the wooden structure of the temple, with different coloured banners moving in the breeze; and all around us, orange-clad monks
It was around midnight when A started getting twitchy and looking at his watch.....that’s right, with all the chanting, the monks “missed” New Year. The one fixed deadline that we thought even the Thais can’t miss, was missed at our temple! Fireworks were going off from Tha Phae Gate (although these were also late!), but our monks carried on chanting. New Year was eventually marked but the Head Monk (not sure if that’s the correct description of the “chief” monk) announcing, in English, “so that’s the New Year”. Indeed. It’s fair to say that A was unimpressed - “how could they miss the midnight deadline?”.
In Chiang Mai, we visited one of the many cookery schools. This was a great way to spend a day. We started with a trip to the market, where we discovered that there’s more than one type of aubergine - and the “new” ones we were shown look nothing like aubergines - and goodness knows how many different types of rice and noodles. We went to various stalls and were told about all the different types of ingredients and alternatives to them if we couldn’t get hold of them in our own country
The food we cooked was delicious. We both made Thai papaya salad, pad thai and prawns in tamarind sauce. V also made red curry, tom yum soup and deep fried bananas while A made panang curry, chicken in coconut milk soup and mango with sticky rice. The chefs were really friendly, the small group we were in was a good laugh and the food was absolutely sensational (even if we do say so ourselves). We realised later that day that those meals were the first we had cooked since leaving the UK in November. We had not lost our “Jamie Oliver” touch :-)
Food in Chiang Mai offered more variety and quality than in Laos and also the opportunity to get an English breakfast down us. This is the first real "home food" craving we've had since leaving the UK and we're pleased to say that the "UN pub" didn't disappoint. Baked beans have never tasted as good as on the morning of New Year's Eve!
A was keen to do zip-lining in Chiang Mai, having picked up a colourful leaflet entitled “the Flight of the Gibbon”. He persuaded V this would be a good thing to do. The lawyer in V, initially wary of safety standards, read the company’s leaflet which said “we take our fun seriously” (first good sign) plus it was all set up and run by a Kiwi - and let’s face it, if there’s any nationality which knows how to put you in dangerous situations, safely, it’s the Kiwis - agreed it would be a good idea
It was AWESOME! And yes, we did see a gibbon. Although, it did fall out of the tree - we’re pleased to report it saved itself by grabbing on to a lower branch. The adrenalin rush was incredible and was much safer than most of the road journeys we’ve undertaken in Thailand. Our skyrangers were called Golf and Boat and, as well as having the best Thai names we've come across, were fantastic. We spent the morning enjoying 5km of ziplines, including one 800m in length, two abseils, several hanging bridges and one tarzan/ superman swing, all within the beautiful rainforest canopy. We got speaking to one of the managers afterwards who told us that the Kiwi guy is currently supervising the construction of a new course in Cambodia - as if we didn’t need any more reasons to go back to Cambodia...