Thai Cooking In A Pink Apron

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Friday, December 2, 2011

With a newfound fan club, DH now has Pulitzer Prize aspirations in the way-too-popular category of 'best travel blogs for family and friends'. Getting the pen back is no longer in question- getting stabbed by the pen if I get too close probably is. DH continues with War and Peace- backpacker style.

Today required a quick pack for Chiang Mai leaving two bags (filled with beachy type stuff) behind in storage to be picked up by us end of January as we complete our circle back in Bangkok. A one hour flight and $80 later we find ourselves in Chaingmai . As the second biggest city in Thailand, it's a much bigger place than we expected. We dropped our packs at the "Mini Cost Guesthouse"- it's a really nice place owned by an ex cop from Australia. We then wandered around trying to choose between restaurants. One thing about Thailand is that they love to eat, and you can find folks cooking from vendor carts in the street from sun up until well past sun down. 

Chiangmai, like Bangkok, is full of travelers. Most restaurants seem safe and you can usually judge by the number of Westerners occupying tables. We chose one close to our accommodations and decided that tonight is the night we are going out of our safety zone and try spicy Thai food. Neither Vic or I are conasours of fine food and really don't have that much interest- it's just not a big part of our travel adventures. I thought we played it safe ordering a vegetable plate, a jasmine rice plate, and a chicken and cashew plate.  The veggies never did show up- the chicken was delicious but it was secretly laced with some unusual peppers, which turned out to be nuclear spicy (watch the tourist explode kind of spicy). Poor Vic reacts quite dramatically if he eats anything overly spicy (which he does very rarely)-  he starts sweating profusely, claims his eyes are bleeding, and he really begins to struggle- eat a mouthful, drink a mouth full, eat a mouthful and so on. It was actually quite comical to me, I knew how hungry he was, poor guy.

On Day 2, after another futile search for a reasonable alternative to a Timmies coffee (can someone please send us an emergency shipment including a thermos of Tim's Double-Double!!), we head out and a short walk later we are in what appears to be a parade square with a staging area that is a gathering place today for some advance celebrations of the Kings 84th birthday (which is the next day). An adorable parade is unfolding- beautiful Thai women in various types of traditional dress, a pretty good brass marching band along with traditional bands, groups representing numerous schools, administrative departments, and bringing up the rear (so to speak), a group of lady- boys (absolutely beautiful) escorting two floats with beauty pageant contestant looking individuals. Perhaps most impressive was the reception for a large group of physically challenged young adults playing various home-made musical instruments adapted for them. 

After watching this collection of earnest individuals disappear into the Thai sunset we made for the somewhat famous Chiang Mai Night Market. It can get very " close" as you shuffle for blocks along with many tourists and locals alike. We discover an adjacent open air market with restaurants, eateries. and vendors with carts stacked one on top of the other. There was a band playing and an area for dancing. The whole place is flooded with various forms of cheesey lighting, creating quite an atmosphere. As we start to walk back (grateful Vic knows where we are as I am now so turned around), fireworks are going off in the night sky. Traffic is like rush hour almost all the time. And because the traffic alone doesn't create quite enough noise, there are small pickup trucks that are equipped with crude speakers hooked up to a PA system of some sort, and they drive around with these things belting out some sort of message or audio advertisement. Every time I hear them I am reminded of the election night in Turkey- very exciting.

Still craving a good cup of jo, we made for our beacon of consistancy in a world of chaos, MacDonalds, for breakfast. Even their coffee, though, is hard to drink- think that's it for me. The streets are busy and it looks like more celebrations are in the making but we're on our own temple trek, exploring as many of the Wat's as we can before reaching that point of temple fatigue apparently there's over 40k in Thailand and I think we've seen most of them).  These are magnificant structures and still very much in use today, but there's very little information on any of them- Thailand could really use a compelling storyteller to bring these structures to life.

We hired a tuk- tuk and headed out of town to something called the home industry area. This is our first of many tuk tuk rides this trip. We have been in them many times before on other trips and although you have to slouch down somewhat to get the surrounding view in, I love them, they are a blast and a must do. The traffic here is still not as bad as India but still an adventure to say the least. Really just a tourist trap for the souvenir hunter (although the gem factory had Deb B's name all over it) you can purchase so many handmade crafts, it makes your head spin. We had quick visits at the paper umbrella, wood carving, gem and silk factories. Interesting to watch such talented people continue the trades of their ancestors.

Tonight is the Sunday night market, the " Walking Street" as the locals call it. I am so glad we went there when it first opened. This was a market that lined the street that was closed off to vehicular traffic. We had a wonderful stroll for about three kilometers. I thoroughly enjoyed this market. So many potential food experiments including, yes, crickets (which come in a surprising number of varieties), squid, fried Quail eggs, so many soups, and deep fried we-don't-know-whats. You could buy things you didn't even know you needed until you saw it there. The walk back however was a different story.  I have not been in a crowd of people like that in ages- the sea of people was endless! Both Vic and I could look over the heads of the crowd and it was amazing that all of us fit in the width of the street. The crowd was happy and content like this, it was a real family night out and was fun, if somewhat claustrophobic, to be part of it all. We stopped for a drink at a little open air bar along the way and while we were there the playing of what we assumed was the National anthem was played. It was bizarre to see this mass of people all come to a complete and silent halt at the same time. Even the touristos in the bar stood silently as well for what has to be the longest National Anthem on record. 

A couple from Kelowna who we met in Bangkok talked up the fun of taking a full day of Thai cooking lessons. We really hadn't put this on our bucket "B" list even. As neither Vic nor I cook, Vic would say that I dragged him there and I would say that he dragged me there, but we had a blast (editors note: I went along with this just to see DH's reaction to completely foreign territory- a kitchen). We were met at 8 am in the morning by a lovely woman called Mam.  At the designated launch point we met our fellow chefs, two couples from Germany, a woman traveling on her own from Germany, a father and son from Australia, and two girlfriends from Kingston, Ontario. A really nice group to be sure. After our introductions and some hot tea, we all piled into a van driven by Mam and we were off to the local market. Here were given instructions on how to buy rice (who knew there were that many varieties, sheens, ages of rice!!), what to look for in fresh made noodles, the differences in a number of spices and roots, which is where I began to waiver somewhat but I was pulled back into the moment when we all had to file back into the van and before you know it we were on our way to the Organic Farm and our classroom for the day. It was about a 40 minute drive out of town so Vic and I crowded up front with Mam, trying to be teachers pets in case there was a test of sorts where our lack of cooking skills and interest might be revealed. The farm was a small one but one that Mam was evidently very proud of- it was lovely. After an orientation around the gardens we found ourselves in this open air kitchen, dining room area that was actually set up for about 24 students. It was really well done as we each had our own " station" . The bonus was that we had to wear ot pink aprons! (editors note specifically to Sam: hockey players never wear pink but I was given no alternative)  Between the pair of us we made Pad Thai, chicken with cashew nuts, spring rolls,Tom Yum soup, red curry and a massaman curry and for dessert- sticky rice with mango and deep fried bananas. If I do say so myself, it tasted pretty good- Mam was convinced that Vic was the best cook in the bunch with a big future in Thai cooking. We had some laughs throughout the day and really did learn a lot- a fun day. I think I will really, really make an effort to learn how to cook when we get home. Don't think it will be Thai cooking, that whole corriander thing, but I should at least master a couple of meals.
We headed out to the night market, we decided to bite the bullet and buy a replacement camera for the one we lost in SanDiego. Not the best deal but a good camera never the least. On the way home we found a kind of floating, Thai kick- boxing match- different place every night. We bought a couple of tickets and in we went. You walked down a dimly lit lane way but were immediately hit with the smell of menthol and smoke. There were maybe a hundred plastic chairs at long narrow tables set up around the boxing ring and it was about three quarters full of Westeners, not too many locals at all. it was just after 9 pm and this was to go until midnight, with the last match of the night being the higlight- USA vs Thailand. The first match had just started and we found really good seats ( not too close as we had been warned) . We ordered drinks and then realized that it was two young female fighters in the ring. They were wearing gloves much to my relief as we had been told some of these fights were barefisted. The ring itself had a covered roof made of tin and coloured lights lit up the ring very well. Each fight was a maximam of five rounds but none of the fights went the full five other than the girls fight. It is a strange sport indeed. At the beginning of each match the fighters would walk around the ring their right gloved had along the top rope then at each corner placing his hands in prayer and bowing his head for several seconds at each of the four corners of the ring. Then at least one if not both of the fighters perform this warm up regime which is a specific regime called Wai Khru Ram, which is supposed to show respect to their trainers and teachers. Each fight was accompanied by very loud music which called to mind a badly plyed snake charmer flute. In between bouts we were subjected to the song " We Will Rock You", over and over again until the next fighters had entered the ring. After the women finished up, we were shocked to see two young boys about nine years old get in the ring to fight. These kids looked like they had been in the gym for several years, there was no doubt they worked out. We looked around, unsure if we should believe what we were seeing but no one seemed concerned or uncomfortable and before you could say "doesn't this constitute some form of child abuse", one of the kids was knocked out! He hit the mat but was up again in seconds as the referee called the match. The next match was two teenage boys which also ended quickly with a knock out. The halftime show was seven male boxers brought into the ring and then each was blindfolded and they tried to fight each other- very silly but the crowd loved it! The fourth fight was also between two young men, also a knock out and then all of a sudden theheadline fighters were stepping into the ring. Apparently this was going to be an earlier night than we expected. The final fight was the most interesting of the bunch as the techniques used for this sport were easier to see but our lesson was short lived and it was a knockout in the third round that ended the night for us. Interesting, but once in life is enough for me.

Up early again today waiting to be picked up for the Elephant Nature Park which is a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants. It is about an hour and a half north of Chiang Mai. Our guide is a lovely woman called Umm.There are several. " Elephant Experiences" so we looked at each one carefully as we do not want to contribute to the "circus" experience some of them offer- it should be about respect, and not about servitude. The Elephant Nature Park is run by a conservationist by the name of Lek Sangduen Chailert and what she has provided for these amazing creatures is unbelievable.
-This woman has put into place a mobile medical unit that she takes all over the country trying to assist elephants who are injured and is taking steps have them live out their lives in this sanctuary.
- It is situated in a breath taking valley surrounded on one side with mountains. A large river runs thorough this property and bathing the elephants is an huge draw for many people.
-There is an education program in place, volunteers from around the world offer their assistance and can stay their to help.
-Lek has rescued elephants from zoos, circuses, abandoned,orphaned, pets,
- Many of these poor creatures are blind in one or both eyes from cruel handlers and owners forcing them to work in logging and trekking camps,
-One with severe digestion problems due to being force fed amphetamines to work longer hours in the logging camps.
-The most heartwrenching stories were around the two elephnats who had survived land mines that had in one case blown off the entire foot of the elephant. How these huge animals managed to hobble around on 3 legs is beyond me. The first time we saw them was at their hospital but sure enough, later in the afternoon, the pair of them had wandered over for the afternoon feeding.
-It wasn't just the physical abuse but the mental- many of these animals were on the long road to recover mentally.
-There are 36 elephants on these grounds, four males and the rest females including two babies. The oldest elephant is 82 years old.

Feeding them was a lot of fun- you couldn't take your eyes of them, watching them eat, watching the way they moved. I found myself studying them as though I had never seen an elephant before. We fed them large pieces of watermelon, pumpkin and bananas - husks and all. They devoured everything and came back for more.
When they brought nine or ten of them to the water for their bathing, we all took our buckets and waded in with them. To be truthful we all got more water on ourselves than on the elephants as we doused them with buckets of cool river water. They really seemed to enjoy it. As much fun as we had, you couldn't stop thinking about the abuse these creatures had suffered at the hands of humans
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May on

Great blog! The best place for coffee in Chiang Mai is Black Canyon. Western standard. That is to say, nice & strong! How did you like the wet market? You can get ANYTHING there. Don't ask what it is if the meat looks a little dark to be beef.

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