Monday, July 9, 2012

Big Mamma

Currently we are sitting in a little fortress made of our luggage on the cold faux-marble floor of Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Terminal, about half an hour through our three hour wait for our bus to Chiang Rai. Eating some interesting pea chips and freeze dried strawberries, we’re hoping the bus isn’t going to be further delayed on ‘thai time’, so we have some time to explore Chiang Rai this afternoon.

The last three days in Chiang Mai were pretty amazing, it’s such a great city! Whilst bit bigger than we expected, it has a really relaxed vibe and we felt much more at ease than in Bangkok. As soon as we arrived we were greeted by Roger, our ridiculously friendly and helpful guesthouse owner, and we met so many lovely, fun people during our stay there. We arrived pretty late due to our delayed flight, so we settled in and slept, ready to wake up early to tackle the city the next day.

Our first day we wandered into the old town of Chiang Mai, which is a pretty interesting set up in itself. We were staying just outside the center on the surrounding river, and quickly realized the old town was surrounded by a moat, making a square of markets, temples, bars, restaurants and guesthouses in the middle. We walked around the market in old China Town, which was a great place to find cheap knick-knacks at local prices, as it was still a little outside the tourist area. We then made our way to the main old town streets, stopping by some temples and the three kings monument, whilst keeping our eye out for a massage my sister recommended. We eventually found “Lila”, a massage place for reformed women’s prisoners. I got an hour long foot and leg massage, which was heaven, whilst Tim braved a traditional Thai shoulder, neck and back massage. As I lay peacefully sipping my jasmine tea and getting my feat flexed and rubbed, I listened to some serious cracking and thumping going on in the next room- pretty glad I stuck to the relaxing hands of my sweet little masseuse rather than the rather rough hands of the lovely but definitely tough ex-prisoner masseuse who twisted, cracked and contorted Tim! Hah, but he made it out in one piece and feeling pretty good, so I’m sure she knew what she was doing!

After the massage experience we decided to make our way to Chiang Mai’s Temple of the Golden Mountain- about a half hour pickup-truck ride away on top of one of the mountains overlooking the city. After a rather windy ride and a lot of stairs, we reached the dripping-with-gold temple and the stunning views at the top. Definitely worth it for the stunning views, and it was interesting to be able to see the distinct square of the old town in comparison to the rest of the expanding city of Chiang Mai.

We got back to our guesthouse in the afternoon, where we got picked up for our next adventure- a Thai evening cooking class! We started off in a local food market where we had some time to roam and look at all the interesting fruits, vegetables and other goods, before picking up the ingredients we would need and heading to the school. We started off making pad thai, which was so easy and so much more delicious and healthy than any I’d had at home. Next we made curry paste- I made green and Tim made red, which involved a LOT of chopping, crushing and pounding. We then made our respective curries, which were equally delicious. We finished off with sweet and sour chicken and cashew chicken, both easy and so yummy! Hopefully I can remember how to make some of them when we get back, but at least we also got to keep a cook book to remind us.

After cooking class we got dropped off at the night market with some new friends, which was hectic but interesting, finishing our night exhausted but happy and full.

Yesterday was another early start, leaving our place around 8.30 to embark on an elephant training course at an Elephant sanctuary an hour and a half north of Chiang Mai. I was pretty aware of how badly some animals, particularly elephants, can be treated- used for shows, dancing, painting and hard labour- all unnatural and damaging to the poor creatures, so I made sure to go to a place that cares for the animals, in fact rescuing many of them from the streets. It was a wonderful day- we learnt the elephant language, fed them (about 10 kilos out of the 150 KILOS they need to eat each day!!), rode them bare backed through the jungle, sitting on the neck which is most comfortable for them and helped to bathe them in the river. We experienced torrential rain, helped cook more traditional thai food and met some great people on the tour. All in all an amazing day and an experience you don’t get every day. Particularly since we got to ride for an hour and a half on one of the biggest elephants- Big Mamma. Big Mamma had a three month old baby calf following her everywhere she went- pretty much the cutest thing ever! So there we were, sitting on the rather prickly back of a majestic elephant with her little baby in front of her feet (I was a bit worried he would get squashed). It was very special.

We arrived back in Chiang Mai in time for some dinner at the Sunday market in the old town, which was amazing- so much better than the night market! We had thought about skipping it as we were a bit marketed out from the night before, but Roger insisted that ‘since you are here on a Sunday, you must go!’, and we will never doubt Roger again. We had the best street food yet, sooo cheap and delicious- I had fish curry, some delicious dumpling-esque things, fried bananas.. AND… Time made me try crickets. As long as you close your eyes they taste crunchy and salty, but I was still a little turned off by the little legs so didn’t have too many.

After the market we went to some bars along our street (again recommended by Roger), which were right by the river. There was live music, plenty of chang beer and cocktails, and a great less-touristy atmosphere. A great end to our trip in Chiang Mai.

Hopefully Chiang Rai and Laos in a few days will be just as good!!

Just a little jackfruit! 

 Time for a drink!

Happy feet at Lila massage 

Who? Me? 

Chiang Mai Golden Mountain Temple 

 Local food market

 Cooking class
 Pad Thai made by me!

Night Market

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