Cheiynghim swn Sxng aka Chiang Mai Part Two

…After riding elephants bareback you can count on a bit of soreness, #horsesonsteroids…So of course that called for massage, really any excuse will do!

Meeting new friends was a highlight of Chiang Mai. The second set we met while dining at @The Teak. A beautiful restaurant, semi fine dining on Loh Kro road, the decor is all this lovely wood, hand carved to delicate perfection that is common to the area. We had decided our American taste for thick juicy steak was in need of some attention and of course that meant a nice bottle of wine. A cocktail before dinner set the tone for the appetizer of a nice thin crust margherita pizza to satisfy a bread/carb fix. Then on to French onion soup for my honey and a house chop salad for me followed by my favorite, a New York steak cooked to mid rare perfection and a tasty lamb shank for my love. The wine was Italian, dirty and rich tasting paired nicely with our entrees, by my own personal wine steward. Our server was friendly, attentive and we had some interesting chatter about politics to add to the color. It is customary in this country to not speak ill of the King but the conversation went that direction a bit. (Will this heir be able to earn his kingdom’s respect?) The adoration for the late King Bhumibol was discussed in detail making for a little insight into these people and this land. As we finished our entrees, a deuce was sat next to us. They immediately ordered a light meal and all of a sudden we were chattering away. We enjoyed the conversation as we indulged in dessert. Housemade coconut ice cream served in shell and chocolate mousse cake, light and airy. We were rolling by this point, having fun with our new acquaintances and so, after dinner drinks were also in order. As they and we wound down our dining we found we were bonding with these two from Connecticut and so off we were to find a place to talk some more. Wandering back towards the hotel, (they were staying just across the street at Le Meridien) we decided on a “quieter” place, conducive to our conversation called My Place Lounge. The owner joined in our banter. He, an entrepreneurial transplant from Las Vegas. General closing time of the bars is midnight here but this owner advised that if the right fees were paid to the police it was possible to get a variance. Off the four of us went to a nightclub called Safe House which happened to be just out the back door and in the basement of our hotel building who belonged to the “after hours” establishment approved few. Dancing, drinking and debauchery continued until the wee hours. The DJ spun American pop music and the libations flowed freely. Our new male friend was “adopted” by some young Asian women and their bottle of Seagrams. Such good conversation and great fun with this young man and his Aunt from the east side of the good ole’ USA. A couple days later we headed out to dinner with them and their traveling companions from Wyoming and Seattle for some Italian fare in the old city. My female east coaster friend shared the pics and videos she had taken that first evening, yes we certainly had a good time. We hope these two will take us up on the offer to come for a visit to our mountain home

Wednesday we decided it would be worthwhile to have our own transport. There is definitely something about scrambling about in unknown territory on your own whim. Rentals are easy to come by and economical. We ended up retaining this mobility until Saturday, it was well worth it.

We started at Doi Suthep, a national park to the west of Chiang Mai. A beautiful winding paved road led us to a rest stop where we purchased chicken satays from the grill and tasty little strawberries and cantaloupe ripened to perfection from the vendors there. From this vantage point, we were able to see Chiang Mai spread out before us which was awesome for getting the lay of the land, spotting the airport, the old city and the tall buildings to the east that included our hotel. We continued on our way to the famous temple that sits on this mountain. This is a tourism mecca with much shopping available and a 50 baht fee to gain access inside the temple as well as need for appropriate attire (scarves are available on loan but knees and shoulders must be covered). My companion needed more food so we ate…when I calculate the extra poundage when we return home I can use this frequency as the culprit. We did, however, follow it with exercise, taking the Naga (snake) adorned 309 steps to the top to reach what drew us here to the mountain. This trek led to the Wat, where there was much beauty but in visiting these temples I wanted to find enlightenment…to a great extent I received confusion. I sought explanations that are not easily found, the language barrier (signage is in Thai only for the most part) was daunting. A cross between Hinduism and Buddhism, imagery and symbolism are predominate. I must say I wonder at the beauty and expense across this landscape in the extreme number of temples present, many overlaid with pure gold and adornment. I have concluded that no easy answer is part of the grand plan. A plan that would lead people to search and study and then hope to find enlightenment. I will continue my search via writings of others, the internet and our travels. If traveling alone I may have taken advantage of programs offered with the monks but they are a large commitment and I choose time with my partner, (at least this round.) One hand written sign planted in the mountain near the stairs had an interpretation as well, it read “If you don’t persistent everything so goods”. Rough translation is part of Thai to English but it makes you think. I like the sentiment in this one and I quite agree. We are always pushing so hard, stressing ourselves out, yes we must work hard but steady as she goes and our resulting life will be so much more rewarding. The constant struggle for “things”, they are not the true reward of life, let’s rejoice in what is natural. (That’s my interpretation anyway and my path.) We continued on our travels back the direction we had come and stopped to enjoy the trickling (dry season) of Mon Tha Thon Waterfall as well as the songs of many jungle birds. If you are a naturist there is camping available here and what looked to be some interesting trails. It’s 100 baht per person to drive in. We decided as we entered city limits that we were not quite ready to be done with exploring. We headed north to Mae Rim. Here we saw a more agriculturally driven village (although the entire area has learned the value of tourism). School children were just hitting the street vendors at the end of their day, farmers were driving a couple of cattle down the same street. We daringly headed to the countryside, onto narrower, less kept roadways to the true farmland where flowers (used for daily offerings in this land) as well as vegetables and fruits not all easily identified by this farm girl from Iowa were growing. We stopped at a roadside stand for refreshment. We were met by stares from the locals stopping here, and as I snapped photos of the sunset and a local boy peeking at me from time to time my husband made friends with an elderly man, who helped with translation with the stand attendant. We inquired about our return path to Chiang Mai and this native directed us and said to me “you go now” pointing to the darkening sky. His urgency indicated what he thought was in our best interest and we took it to heart and hit the trail back to the south, using good sense and keeping that setting sun and the mountains on our right since we hadn’t really understood most of the mans words of direction or the multiple hand gestures he had used. We found our way back from what will most likely be our favorite adventure. We tend to like it on the edge, the less common path.

For the next couple days, we just chilled. Enjoying our ability to wander to areas our feet couldn’t easily take us, we explored the city, it’s shopping, food, massage, temples, historic buildings and general sight seeing. We made a trip out to Huay Tung Tao Lake between Chang Mai and Mae Rim. The locals go here to enjoy the peace and to enjoy lunch at one of the floating picnic table areas. A major mall we found is called Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center, a six level mix of food and clothing/beauty with rooftop bars and eateries on Nimmonhaeman Road, an area known to be growing in to hipsterville, it’s close to the university. I’m not sure how to explain our ending up in malls multiple times on this trip (since we both avoid them like the plague at home) except that the air conditioning is so welcome and they definitely afford a different way of sizing up a new culture. We explored up and down the river where there are many places to eat and lots of live music making for great night activity. We ate at The Riverside Market (upon referral by the friends of the friends from Connecticut) one night that had a wonderful view of the colors on the river and the iron bridge. It was spendy (? by Thai standards) but you pay for view and it was by far the most innovative thai style food we have come across. Every bite a tasty delight, the spicy basil clams were our favorite. We also ate at a little place called The Nines Kitchen which was a favorite, especially for the Khao Soi and outstanding service. One night we ended up enjoying dinner and some good music inside the Night Bazaar at an Indian/Thai joint (forgot to document this place’s name), the garlic naan we had was notable. Saturday night we headed to the place recommended to us by the lady running the fish spa when her grandson carried in her food from there. Authentic as it gets. Aroon Rai was a hit with us, Thai spice done just right, around since 1957, they should have it down. We followed our curries with another trip to Doctor Fish, (Chang larges and bottle opener from 7-11 in hand). After that hour, I was in need of a pit stop so we stopped at a bar at the corner of Loh Kro and the Kotchasarn Road (main road this side of entrance to old city). Upon my return from the ladies room, I saw the scotch rocks in front of my hubby and knew we were quite possibly on our way to rolling again (nearly 21 years of hanging out makes you know someone)! Every restaurant and bar here is open air which makes for great people watching and Saturday night on this main road was entertaining, so we stayed for a couple. Soon we were headed back to our Vegas boy’s bar (we should be nice and stop by to say hi on the way back to our hotel, right?). My Place Lounge pulled down it’s garage door at midnight but this time our new friend and his friends (also expats owning businesses here) invited us for after hours chit chat. At 3 am, he quietly rolled up the door enough for us all to duck under and put his finger to his lips to indicate our need for silence. Amazing how such active streets could be rolled up completely just a few hours later. It was eerily silent. We made our way home to wallow in our hangover poolside for the entirety of Sunday. We ate lunch one of these days at a hole in the wall place run by a mom and her children worth mentioning. It was on a side street in the old city and called Tang Nueng, we will never find value like we did on this menu and the homemade chocolate chip ice cream at 20 baht was a steal!

Taeng River white water rafting was adventure we looked forward to all weekend. Booked through Expedia, it was a steal of a deal via the web. We use this site often for hotels, we are even VIP members but rarely prebook activities. The shuttle was scheduled to pick us up between 10-10:30am. At 9:58 our phone rang, our driver was in the lobby and wanted to remind us to bring extra clothes. We were packed already and out the door in a flash. Prompt arrival was great BUT for the next hour and a half we rode around in this passenger van within 4 blocks of our hotel. Ugh! We could have still been enjoying a coffee somewhere. I felt sorry for the driver and assistant trying to find one little hostel and then the next but this being trapped in a vehicle was not our idea of vacation (this is why organized tours are just not us, we require to dictate our own time). We did have to laugh at one point when they thought they spotted one of the “hometels”, turned down the street and then found it narrowed to barely sidewalk width. Backing up ensued with forward back, repeat, repeat, to finally get unstuck. Tiny little criss cross roadways are truly a part of every city we’ve been to in Thailand, they are definitely not a grid. Finally, we were at the Holiday Inn on the edge of town for the last pick up, assistant gave us the days run down…2 hours of travel time to the destination. Ugh, again. I felt carsick already. I focused on the uncharted territory and got my head back on straight. We stopped for a toilet break and opportunity for snacks. I gave myself permission to indulge because of my vehicle misery. Custard bread. Sold in 7-11 here. We were addicted last year but wanting to keep the pounds down we had told ourselves it was forbidden this year. It’s crazy good. So is the pineapple bread. So, if you come to this land and aren’t concerned with calories, partake! We were back on the road fast and started our ascent up the curvy mountain road to our destination. We were north of Mae Rim. We felt our excitement brewing again. This road was paved…several years ago, skinny and pot-holed, I wouldn’t have cared to trade places with the driver. We pulled into a dirt drive right before the river bridge. We had arrived. We expressed to each other about the shallow, slow flowing river and I held back my I told you so. (On booking, I’d said “White water, here? Now? Rainy season has been gone for 5 months.” My honey reassured me as everywhere had advertised the sport activity.) We were seated at thatched tables and benches under a palapa style structure. Roosters scratched in the dirt around us, crowing now and again. Stray dogs wandered in for some attention. The cooler mountain air breeze blew and the whoosh of the water was in our ears. No matter the outcome, the remote beauty was divine. Our hosts, (tribal youth) fed us an abundant lunch of fried rice with egg, crispy chicken and sausage. Food is served here with fork and tablespoon. The fork meant for guiding the food on to the spoon and the spoon for spooning in to your mouth. Last year the method seemed so foreign, this year I’m learning to prefer it. Dessert was fresh pineapple, tasty and sweet. We finished eating and were instructed to dress for the water and stow our belongings in the van. Our guides advised we would ride farther up to the launching point. Hope budded once again. Maybe we would find the rapids we anticipated. About 15 minutes up stream we unloaded and finally the lead guide advised no big boats, no big water, maybe 4 metres below the height of the season. 2 man inflatable kayaks with guide at the rear is what we were in for. Honestly, we were disappointed by the lack of thrill but overwhelmed by the simplistic beauty. We really enjoyed our down river 2 hour float. We had a couple little moments of speed where we saw the potential of what significantly more water would bring. The butterflies and dragonflies darted around the river and lit on the boat edge to ride along. They were purple, green, red, white and black. The birds sang from the varying trees throughout the jungle lining the river. The elephant and human families shared the living space along the banks and we saw them playing and cooling themselves along our path down the waterway. Fathers were fishing, women were washing. Friendly smiles, waves and splashes greeted us all along the way. Not the thrill we anticipated but nature and living life at its finest. A day we won’t soon forget and aren’t a bit sorry for. We arrived back at the palapa and were offered hot coffee, iced water (a luxury) and juicy pineapple. There were outdoor showers behind bamboo walls inside toilet stalls we were invited to use and change into our dry clothes. We loaded back up and most snoozed all the way back in. I watched the miles go by wondering some more over the meaning of life. Simplicity. Nature. Appreciation.

Wednesday we woke early. It was the last day in the north and we had booked with Scenic Asia Cooking School for their full day program at the farm. We found this passenger van travel to be much more efficient then for the rafting trip! We were greeted by Ranu who would be our teacher for the day. After picking up our remaining classmates we hit the 1001 Motorway and were out of the city and into uncharted territory. Our travels took us to Maejo District. Our first stop was at the market where our instructor introduced us to uncooked normal (minute rice to us) and sticky rices (white, brown and black), flavorings, curry pastes, palm sugar (both raw and dry), wheat and rice flours and fresh vegetables. All ingredients we would later use in our preperations. Most of these items were no more than 10 baht for measurements large enough to make several meals. We were given an opportunity of about 10 minutes freedom to wander this locals market which also housed offering flowers, prepared foods, clothing and magazines and newspapers. We grabbed a couple banana almond breads, some fresh mini strawberries (the cutest little four year old mama’s helper was very proud to package these for me, and gave me a large smile and the wai with his little hands as he took my 40 baht) and hearty espressos to enjoy on the remainder of our journey into the countryside. Fresh from the field iced lemongrass tea awaited us on our arrival to the farm. We were invited to sit for our introduction to our surroundings and a survey of the options we could select from for the 7 items we would learn to prepare. My partner and I conferred in order to insure we maximized our exposure to this hands on learning experience. Our choices included: Pad Thai, Hot Basil Stir Fried, Papaya Salad, Chicken Spicy Salad, Tom Yum Soup, Coconut Milk Soup, Thai Spring Rolls, Green curry paste with its curry with rice, Khaw Soi curry paste and it’s curry with noodles, Fried Bananas and Mango with sticky rice. We were lucky as every option from the menu was selected by someone in our group so we would actually get both audible and visual exposure to it all! We took off to visit the farm (really a large garden my American standards). The layout was beautifully landscaped with pathways, statues and areas of Buddhist tribute. We were introduced to Thai agriculture. Our exposure included: kolanka (thai ginger, spicy tumeric, thai ginseng (used in curry pate to add spice and good for blood pressure) sword parsley, mint, chives for small garlic, spring onion, shallot, rice (one paddy normal, one paddy sticky), panda leaf (for color), lemongrass (Thai people surround their homes with this as we would plant grass to keep mosquito’s out of the home), basil hot, lemon basil, sweet basil (for red and green curry), baby green and red chili, pea eggplant (for bitter flavor in green curry), long bean (for papaya salad or stir fry with oyster sauce), eggplant/aubergine (small green and crunchy for curry) papaya, Kaffir lime (skin only for curry paste not juice because it’s too bitter but for shampoo or in toilet drain for good smell) lime leaf (for flavor for tom yam soup), rose apple, jack fruit, betel leaf (to ward off mosquito’s thai people chew with tobacco and used for thai “cheers” ritual known as chiyo), lemon, butterfly pea flower (for color and tea, boil for sticky rice to make blue, contains betacarotene, tea boil with sugar and lime). Wow, what an introduction! Cows, chickens and pigs also had their place on the property as did a small pond as well as the beautiful teak open air structure that was our classroom kitchen. A two story home stood at the back of the property. It captivating, hammocks swung from coconut and banana trees and small wooden tables and chairs were scattered around as well to offer comfort on breaks and at the end of the day. Upon return to our table we found it set with the Meang Khum presentation which includes betel leaf, toasted coconut, roasted peanut, chopped shallot, minced chili, chopped ginger, very small lime pieces with skin, and a palm sugar and water syrup. We were instructed how to prepare our own and that all are to partake at the same time. “Chiyo”, we repeated in unison and tasted this flavor explosion. Coincidentally enough, I glanced at the time and found that it was exactly 11:11, my own symbolism beliefs led me to feel that I will continue to be blessed with much luck in this life. The next 4 hours were spent learning the tricks of preparation and presentation of the dishes we had selected. We were supplied with apron and towel and had wash sinks were near by. We bounced between our preparation table, cook station and dining table the remainder of our day. Prep area included a cutting board about 5 inches thick made from the trunk of a tree, meat cleaver for all cutting and chopping, small woven basket for trash and a plate to place prepped items on. Our teacher shared Thai secrets for maximizing flavor and aroma through preparation methods. For every dish we would bounce to the cooking station and then on to the dining table. In some instances our food items were covered for protection from insects by breathable woven covers resembling the shape of a bird cage. The cooking stations were propane burners housed in wooden carts. These carts housed palm oil for stir frying as well as fish sauce for adding salty flavor and oyster sauce to use as a thickening agent. We were supplied with wok, spatula and spoon as well as tongs when using the deep fry burner. Our teacher shared Thai lore and added humor when calling our spring rolls our babies. We diapered them and guided them down the slide to be boiled in the oil. She talked about our “emotion” being the measurement of our ingredients (no use of spoons or cups here) and teased us “how sexy is your spicy”, when instructing us on numbers of chili to add to our dishes. She demonstrated use of the mortar and pestle for curry paste making by “getting on your angry”. We learned so much this day and shared companionship with our group from California, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands. Ranu presented us with our diplomas of cookbook and postcard before escorting us back home. We all agreed we had certainly gotten great value from this escapade. Adventure, knowledge, culinary satisfaction and human bonding. It’s an experience we will treasure. We knew we weren’t up for any dining extravaganza this evening when we returned to the city but we did wander a bit to work off the days fare, enjoyed a Chang while people watching and of course indulged ourselves in spa choices of massage for him and fresh mani/padi for me before flying today to our next destination.

It was wonderful in Chiang Mai and Dusit D2 was superb every step of this last half of our stay. (Including the midnight room service my hubby insisted we have this last day, there’s that extra poundage again 😉 A cool little noteworthy aspect of the stay was an orange plexiglass box that sat on the desk. We noticed it on arrival and were curious about its purpose. Turns out every day after room refresh we were left a trinket. Handmade. Keychains, notepads, bookmarks. What an awesome way to be made to feel special! Thanks D2.

We’re in flight as I tap out the end of this post. Southward bound via Air Asia. Off to Malaysia’s capital city we go. I’ll hit publish after we land. Here’s to new discovery! I hope you will continue to #travelwithme!

***Worthwhile note: On descent of this flight a couple of announcements were different then we had ever experienced: 1) A warning of the ramifications (imprisonment) for human trafficking.

2)Malaysian health law requires fumigation of aircraft before landing. “We suggest you cover your mouths during this process.”

Ummmmm. Okay. ☺

****Note also: We are promised pics to download both from rafting and cooking that have not been available yet. I’ll add to this post or check out what I share via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well. Because. You know. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words!

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