Friday, 12 August 2011

Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai

This post describes our adventures in nothern Thailand: Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.  I'm combining the two cities into one post because our sojourn in Chiang Rai was so short, it's undeserving of a post all its own.

We first traveled to Chiang Mai from Ayutthaya by night train.  When we boarded the train, there were only seats, and it was only at about 7:30 that the rather surly porter came around and switched all the seats over to beds for us.  The scenery was quite beautiful -  lots of birds and gorgeous limestone cliffs sprouting out over the landscape.
Greg pretending he doesn't know I'm taking a picture of the train (before the beds were made).

I got very little sleep on the train, and so I was pretty wrecked for our first day in Chiang Mai.  On our second day, we decided to take a cooking class to learn how to make authentic Thai food.  We were picked up in a sawng thaew, which is a covered red pickup truck with benches along the sides, which are used as a cab/bus in Thailand.  Our first stop was a local market, where we learned all about common Thai ingredients.  We found some interesting food when we were given time to wander the market alone.

Delicious grasshoppers

This is the durian.  Shudder.

We were then taken to an organic farm and shown some Thai herbs, fruits and vegetables.  Then it was off to the kitchens to start cooking!  We first made curry paste, and then used it to make a delicious curry soup.  The second course was soup: Greg made Tom yum and I made Thai vegetable.  Both soups were nice and spicy!  Greg then made a basil chicken stir fry while I learned spicy papaya salad - my favourite dish of the day.  After a break for eating (and napping), I made pad thai and Greg tried his hand at deep fried spring rolls.  For dessert, Greg made mango sticky rice and I cooked bananas in coconut milk.  By the end of the day we were exhausted and stuffed!  And of course highly skilled at cooking Thai food.

My exquisite red curry paste.

Greg preparing his soup ingredients.

Spicy papaya salad.  I put one and a half chili peppers in mine, and it was almost too spicy for me.  The instructor put TEN in hers and declared it delicious.

Lunch time break!  Clockwise from left: rice, papaya salad, Thai vegetable soup and tofu red curry.

My yummy pad thai packaged in Thai 'tupperware'

 The next day it was off to the elephant park!  When we returned to Chiang Mai after our week with the elephants, the weather was quite gloomy and rainy.  We attempted to go to the Sunday walking street (a giant night market) but due to the torrential downpour, there were not many vendors or buyers.  So instead, we met all our elephant park friends for a few drinks at a rooftop bar.

Our next destination on our tour of Chiang Mai was Wat Suthep, a temple on a mountain outside of town.  The drive up was quite nauseating as there were many twists and turns.  Unfortunately since it was so overcast and rainy, we did not get a view of the city from the top of the mountain.  But the wat was still quite impressive, with its bright gold chedi and of course, numerous statues of Buddha.

Dragons at the bottom of the (long) staircase up to the wat

Gold Buddha statues

The gold-plated chedi was quite spectacular.

Roof decorations on a wat in Chiang Mai

The 'downtown' of Chiang Mai is surrounded by an ancient moat and walls.  Only fragments of the wall remain, and the gates have been reconstructed.  This is a section of the old wall still standing.

Due to flight schedules (and because we made a mistake on the date booking our flight to Laos), we had a few extra days in the region.  We figured we'd get out of Chiang Mai and venture up to Chiang Mai, which is in the very north of Thailand, near the borders of China and Myanmar.  We booked a bus ticket, and then discovered it was a "VIP" bus, meaning we each got our own tv screen which played movies, including some in English!  I watched (most of) Tron, while Greg watched the James Cameron cave movie, which I forget the name of.  Neither were very good, but at least the movies passed the time.  The scenery was quite beautiful; lots of green rolling hills.  Upon arrival we found a room at a guest house directly beside the bus station, which was quite convenient, if a little smelly.  Our first night we decided to check out the night market for dinner, but with menus like this, we decided to instead find a restaurant.

I honestly have no idea how one would cook a "demon moustache"

The next day we explored the Thai countryside.  There were some Buddha caves a few km outside of town, and so we decided to check them out.  Our map wasn't the greatest, and after a few wrong turns (and a few hours) we found the correct road.  Much to our dismay, the sign said "Buddha Cave 4km" but being super-troopers, we decided to keep going.  

Beautiful limestone hills on our hike along the country roads.

After about 20 minutes, we came across a gate with gold statues, and a sign in Thai.  We decided to investigate, and lo and behold, we found a Buddha cave!

Buddha statue in a cave.

Sculpture on cliff face beside Buddha cave.  There was a dog sleeping on the step under the sculpture, and when we passed by again on our way back, he was still there.

Since this cave was definitely not 4km down the road, we were pretty sure it was not the main Buddha cave that we were looking for, and so we kept going.   After another 45 mins or so, we came across another Buddha cave!  This one was much bigger (and mercifully had a toilet, rank as it was).  

We made friends with a sweet kitty, whom I christened Bernadette as she bore a striking resemblance to a certain Bernard, on Tioman Island.

Second Buddha cave!  There was a whole herd of cats in this cave, and they looked quite healthy as the monks were obviously feeding and taking care of them.

This statue almost gave me a heart attack.  It was hidden behind some rocks, down a small overgrown pathway off to the side of the main cave.  I thought it was a real monk at first, hence my heart skipping a few beats.  It's freaky to see a realistic statue after days and days of only seeing gold-plated statues.

We then headed back to town to get some refreshing cold drinks and dig up some dinner.  It was quite hot that day, and the walk tired us out!  The following day we hopped a bus back to Chiang Mai, in preparation for our flight to Laos!

Gold clock tower in a main roundabout in Chiang Rai.

1 comment:

  1. Ha ha!! That menu is absolutely hysterical! Have you yet figured out what the heck 'mustache' is?