Chiang Mai – Street food, spiders and elephants

Although we thought we were mentally prepared, it was still a bit of a shock to arrive in Thailand. Everything felt slightly too organised, too clean, and too westernised. It took us a bit of time to acclimate, but one thing is delightful: no more perpetual honking!

Our plan is to spend about 10 days in northern Thailand before crossing into Laos. We start with Chiang Mai, the capital in the north (we didn’t meet the King in the North though…)! We got ourselves a cheap room in a dorm, and turns out it is a double-bed in a dorm! The hostel itself is a bit crappy, rusty and stuffy, but somehow homey.
Our first priority as usual: food! So we drop our bags and head to the night market. At first, we are a bit overwhelmed by the amount of Western tourists, the paved roads, the neon advertisements and the bright-lit supermarkets. We taste a few stuff and stroll between dozens of repetitive stalls selling scarves, sarongs, baggy pants and colourful purses. Over the following days each evening will be an excuse to visit another night market and taste some more delicacies, although not always convincing. The mango-sticky-rice is a hit for both of us (see Mom?? I’m eating fruits!!), but “proper dishes” are somehow more convincing to us. That’s why we take the chance to take a cooking course!

We opt for a half-day course with the option to cook 5 different dishes, including a spring roll and a homemade curry paste. We first get a little tour of the local market and our chef shows us a few ingredients we will use. We then start preparing our dishes. We can each pick a different dish if we want, but most of the recipes remain the same with just a few different twists. It was a lot of fun, and also very educative. Some recipes will unfortunately be hard to reproduce at home as it is hard to find some of the ingredients in Europe, but we will definitely try some! At the end of the course we even received a nice little cook book with all recipes. Here’s what we cooked:

  • Spring rolls
  • Tom Ga Khai Soup
  • Tom Yom Gun Soup
  • Pad Thai
  • Cashew Nuts fried chicken
  • Panang Curry
  • Khao Soi (Chiang Mai’s specialty)

We’ll probably choose the one that’s possible to prepare in Europe and will make a post with our personal recommendations for that recipe.

In Chiang Mai, except for food markets, we did some sightseeing, but without being very convinced. We had had our share of temples back in Myanmar, but we pushed ourselves to visit a few, as their style is of course very different in Thailand. Some friendly locals oriented us towards to places worth visiting, usually after extensively complimenting Quentin for his facial hair (sometimes with some awkward patting included). To us, the temples felt less authentic than in Myanmar (except for the fact that in Myanmar they love adding blinking neons around buddhas’ heads). We also took the chance to get our first Thai massage. We chose Lila Massages, a chain that encourages the reinsertion of former prison inmates by training them as masseuses. We chose the “Thai Massage” option, with means no oil, but especially using every body part to make you suffer as much as possible, including elbows, knees and feet. We quickly understood why this fits the image of former inmates, especially for Rebekka, who felt like her masseuse was a former power-lifter. Next time, we’ll probably get a soft oil massage ^_^

Next, we decided to join the masses and book half a day with an elephant sanctuary. It is very pricey, but after discussing with many people it seemed to be a decent company that does not do any elephant riding and treats its elephants with care. A 1.5 hour ride out of Chiang Mai brought us to their small camp in the Jungle (although not really isolated), they gave us a cute shirt to wear and briefed us for a while on their organisation, how they care for their elephants, and how to interact with them. After a while, we got to meet the stars, feed them bananas and bamboo, and take a few pictures with them. We then headed to the river with a little detour through a massive mud bath, where the organizers encouraged us to “get dirty” before diving into the river with those massive things. The elephants seemed to have their own rhythm, and the organizers didn’t force them to stay longer in the water or to interact with us. After this nice refreshing time, we said goodbye to our new big friends and headed back to Chiang Mai. We did feel like the big animals were correctly cared for, although we were a bit sad to hear that their reinsertion into the wild is not really possible.

At last, we decided to do a 2-day trek through the hills nearby Chiang Mai. We set off early in the morning with our newly-met trekmates: a Welsh woman, a Dutch guy and a Czech guy. Our guide, Kum, has long legs and sets a rapid pace. We are out of breath after half a hour (the path is rather steep and narrow) but we stop at a waterfall for a break and a little swim. As soon as we put our socks back on Kum sets off at the same pace, but on an even steeper path. Seems like he’s testing us. Luckily, another waterfall is waiting for us a bit further on the path. We continue like this until dusk, walking through the bushes and below the tall trees, scratching our legs and chasing mosquitoes away from our exposed skin. The way is not particularly beautiful (dry season), aside from the relative wilderness of the jungle. We do see a zillion of spiders though. Yellow, black, brown, white spiders… short-legged, long-legged… shiny, hairy… lazy, jumping… all kind of spiders. Our guide seems to particularly love them. We also see a few snakes, frogs, bees and others cuddly animals…
We spend the night in a little bamboo hut close to the river and chat with our group until late (except for Quentin who falls asleep with his head on the table at 9 pm). All in all a cool experience, but we tend to compare is a bit too much with the trek we did in Myanmar, which once again felt more authentic than in Thailand.

Now off to Pai, just a few hours up north. 🙂

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