Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Make Fire Like Master Chef
Since our last entry, we've been very busy exploring Chiang Mai, which has proved to be as exciting and enchanting a city as we imagined. We spent the morning wandering around the neighborhood where our guesthouse is located, including a painful walk through a very stinky, open air market around the corner where it is possible to buy EVERY part of ANY animal, fish, sea creature, or plant imaginable. These are then prepared on a low-flame grill and served in a plastic, handled bag with sauce poured over the top. As you can imagine, the lack of refrigeration and the stink of raw meat intermingled with the smell of fat dripping on the grill was quite overpowering and not the most pleasant introduction our Chiang Mai culinary experience. At some of the seemingly-safer street stalls, we tried various types of noodle dishes, but we couldn't be sure what they were called. Ordering consisted of pointing at pictures and hoping for the best. Every time we order, we are served in these clear, plastic bags. Our efforts eating from these bag using chopsticks must be comical for observers passing by, as noodles end up all over our face, shirts, and the ground. On the plus side, we leave a very distinguishable trail that help us find our way home at the end of the night...
On one of our first days in Chiang Mai, we located and bargained with a songthaew to take us to Doi Suthep. First off, we have to explain about the songthaews, or shared taxis. Red songthaews are basically the yellow cabs of Chiang Mai, and besides the obvious color change, their only real difference is that passengers ride on two hard, wooden benches in the back of a covered pick-up truck with no seatbelts and only the most natural of air-conditioning. To top it off, 15 people squeeze into one vehicle with the hot, Thai sun beating down on them. Couldn't imagine seeing THAT in New York City! Plus, songthaew rides are almost always followed by a bruised bum, so decisions to take the songthaews must be made carefully. In many cases, we chose to walk. Anyways, back to our story... Located a short ways out of the city on top of a mountain is the beautiful Wat Phra That Dio Suthep, the holiest shrine in the north of Thailand. After a 300-step climb up an intricately decorated Dragon staircase, we reached the temple grounds where we were surrounded by an abundance of filigree and gleaming metal, altars and spire rooftops. In the center of the temple stands the giant, gold chedi of Chiang Mai- pictured in many guidebooks and postcards. We walked over to the viewpoint, where we were able to see the entire city laid out before us, and the landscape of mountains and rivers that surrounds it. Our songthaew driver was waiting for us when we came down the stairs and giggled with the other drivers at our lack of endurance in the humid climate. We began the drive back down the mountain, holding on to dear life as we recalled the conversation we had over breakfast with two Australian gents. They explained that there are really no traffic rules in Chiang Mai, that every one keeps an eye out for themselves, and as for red lights, well, they pretty much don't mean anything. The one universal "rule of the road" seems to be two short honks, basically "get the hell out of my way, I'm coming throuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh." They recommend we rent scooters - we laughed. We'd rather not end up on the pavement squished like some creepy-crawly insect, thank you very much. We were dropped off at our guesthouse, a little shaky, but still in one piece. Thank Buddha.
Since we have some extra time in Chiang Mai, we decided to enroll in a cooking course, or what might be referred to in the States or Canada as boot camp, in order to discover the secrets of Thai cooking. We learned that besides the obvious ingredients like coconut milk, which we were happy to learn is in absolutely everything, Thai cooking uses ingredients like one-year aged shrimp and rotten fish parts, which we were not so happy to learn about...but we promise not to go there. We would prefer to be happy, even if it means we are somewhat ignorant of some of the items that have made it into our meals. On COOKING CLASS DAY!, we were picked-up from our guesthouse bright and early by a red songthaew and partook in a conversation with a friendly Balinese man sharing our taxi about the possibility of procuring a monkey as a pet while traveling in Indonesia. Obviously, this was one of Arielle's great ideas. The funny thing is, the whole suggestion didn't seem to be such bizarre idea to him; they are only $40 after all. Hmmmmmm... possible souvenir? After a local market tour, our group of enthusiastic "chefs-to-be" was unloaded at the Pad Thai Cookery School, located directly behind our teacher's house. Meow (our teacher, not a Thai ingredient) spent all day teaching up about Thai cooking from the basics such as making your own curry paste (this involves a lot of banging and crushing of various herbs using a large rock and the key part...a bit of imagination. No joke, imagination! We learned that you need imagine your ex-boyfriends face underneath the rock while you are crushing in order to make the most creamy curry paste...) to more complicated endeavors called "big fire, like Master Chef in wok." I don't think that we will try this one at home...Just based on the videos, Ay looks terrified and Ari is clearly enjoying her pyro-tendencies...I wonder where she got those from (Dad). Between the two of us, they are lucky the Pad Thai Cooking School was open for business the following day... it was a close call.
Anyways, we are absolutely loving our time in Chiang Mai and getting ready for our next big adventure on a jungle trek, where we were told by our travel agent that if we are lucky, our guide will catch and cook a snake for supper, yay (insert: here imagine a very unenthusiastic sound). We'll let you know how that goes... Bon appetit.
XOXO Ay and Ari