Young buddhist monks at Wat Phra Sing
Well we finally decided to forgo the arduous route through Mae Sot and Mae Sariang to Mae Hong Son and opted to head for Chiang Mai first, figure out what to do and then head down to Mae Hong Son and the area perhaps to trek a bit. The bus to Chiang Mai was about five hours, not to bad all things considered. We had read about another really nice place in Chiang Mai called Baan Orapin but the emails to them bounced and it is supposed to be small so we figured we would stay one night in one of the places recommended by Lonely Planet and maybe wander over to Baan Orapin in the morning.
When we arrived in Chiang Mai, it was pouring rain and we were immediately barraged by touts trying to overcharge for Saamlaw and convince you to stay at their guesthouses.
Inside Wat Phra Sing
We thought we would be smart and try calling the one of the places recommended by LP called the Galare hotel, located on the banks of the Ping River. Having no idea how much money to put in the phone, I tried one baht and that didn’t seem to work so I tried a ten and heard some weird beeps - good sign. Eventually we figured out that you had to put in a city code to and, amidst the incredible din of the bus station, rain and the Saamlaw drivers yelling, I heard some sort of pre-recorded message in Thai and then broken English that was totally incomprehensible.
I hung up and hit the coin return, only to find that I had just donated ten baht to the phone company…
We eventually convinced a smiling woman of a reasonable price into town, and hopped in the back of her “taxi” for the rainy, traffic-y ride to the Galare guesthouse. It was an OK place but paled in comparison to the Lotus Village in Sukothai with fairly dingy walls, dingy bathroom and the not-so-pleasant smell of an abundant amount of bug spray. Theoretically it had air-conditioning, although the air coming out of the unit didn’t seem any cooler than the air blowing off the fan.
We strolled across the river for an early river-side dinner at a somewhat touristy place sitting on the banks of the Ping which is a brown, muddy river - not so picturesque, but the food was ok.
We did manage to find the Baan Orapin (www.baanorapin.com) and spoke with the owner Air who showed us a beautiful room. Cindy was ecstatic and we told her we would be there first thing in the morning - so much for roughing it!
The Chiang Mai Flower Market
After a quick breakfast at the Galare, we hopped in a tuk-tuk, went through the requisite haggling to get a reasonably fair price, and checked into our new digs at Baan Orapin across the Ping River. Baan Orapin is a fantastic bed and breakfast type place with a beautiful, large room in a teak building with a four poster bed, sitting area, balcony and spotless bathroom.
It is owned and run by a really nice couple, Opus and Air (no doubt, not how to really spell their names…), who’s family has owned the impressive, manicured house and grounds (there are several buildings) for several generations, originally built in 1914 or so. This place is really nice and comfortable (and actually only a modest splurge and quite a value at 1500 baht, about $40).
Our room at the Baan Orapin Guesthouse
We spent the day wandering around the Old City, which is walled and filled with Wats, but more busy and city-ish than I remember from before. The first thing we wanted to do was visit a few of the cooking schools so that we could pick one for tomorrow, and we ended up settling on the Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking school (www.thaifarmcooking.
com) that included a trip to the market followed by classes at their organic farm way out of the city. A quick and tasty lunch at a small little backpacker place and we were off to visit some Wats.
Baan Orapin Bungalow
We walked down to one of the bigger Wats in Chiang Mai, Wat Phra Sing, and wandered around the grounds (at least this time, no one told us it was closed until 2:00 pm!) and watched some of the really young novice monks dressed in saffron robes chanting (and giggling at the farang) as well as some hilarious young boy scouts doing marching drills (they also were much more interested in us than their drills…). We wandered home through the old city and by the really pretty and colorful flower market (amazing variety of flowers).
That evening, we went to another of the river-side restaurants for dinner and I noticed a tall, thin, striking woman in an evening dress and lots of makeup who appeared to be the hostess or waitress or something.
After ordering beers from a young Thai boy, the woman strolled over to our table to take our order. Imagine our surprise when her voice was deeper than mine and definitely NOT female. Who knew - not only do you get inexpensive tasty food and beer, but you get a transvestite waiter thrown into the mix for free!
Naga at Wat Phra Sing
I had some noodles and Cindy had some not so great fried rice and suddenly I realized that my head was on fire. Somehow I managed to eat a tiny chili so hot that it made my cheeks sweat -probably one of the infamous little ones known as “mouse shit” chilies (supposedly a direct translation from Thai since they are tiny little things, not much bigger than what they are named after…). A few minutes later, Cindy managed to do the same thing and we immediately ordered another large Singha beer…
The highlight of this particular restaurant was the local entertainment, first a woman doing reasonable covers of lots of female ballad singers like Tracy Chapman, Fiona Apple, etc.
She was not bad, although Cindy did mention that it didn’t seem like the words were correct or that she really knew what she was singing. Well, she was followed by two guys who proved Cindy right. At one point, the started doing a cover of Neil Young’s Heart of Gold and something sounded wrong. I listened intently and realized that they were singing something to the effect of “she keeps me singing for a kind of gold” and generally messing up the words - completely apparent that they had no idea what they were singing (which made it all the better).
I thought the dichotomy between a saffron-robed monk and an ATM was to funny...
The next morning, we were picked up by our instructor, Suh, of Thai Farm Cooking and we hopped in the back of a Saamlaw and joined the other students, all young, a couple from Holland, two English guys on college break and two Korean sisters.
Suh took us to a very cool market and explained some basics about rice, making coconut milk and typical Thai pantry items, and we wandered around the market shooting pictures such as the Happy Pig Heads below.
Happy Pig Heads at the market
Next we were off to the school which was a good 30 minutes out in the countryside on a really pretty little farm. Suh walked us around the gardens, explaining about the various herbs and plants, all of which were pretty familiar to Cindy and I but not so much to the rest of the group. They grow a variety of basils, eggplants, kaffir limes, lemon grass, galangal and Thai ginseng, all of which we would be soon making into Green Curry Paste.
Our next task was making the Curry Paste the real Thai way, by grinding it all up by hand in a mortar and pestle. Suh explained all the ingredients (garlic, galangal, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, chilies, garlic, kaffir lime rind, etc.
) and all eight of us started pounding away with a fairly large mortar and pestle, eventually mushing everything into a relatively smooth paste - all in all, quite hard work compared to buying the stuff at 99 Ranch Market at home!
Suh - our teacher at the Thai Farm Cooking School
After making the paste, we went into the kitchen, a kind of cool, open air bamboo building with individual workstations, where we ended up preparing chicken in green curry paste, Tom Yum Goong soup (spicy shrimp soup), chicken with chilies and basil, sticky rice, Thai egg rolls and bananas in coconut milk. It was really fun (if a little bit basic, at least for Cindy and I) and pretty tasty too.
Well today it rained and I mean it rained pretty much, all day so after breakfast, we went into the main building at Baan Orapin and was going to spend some time on the internet updating this blog and doing photo stuff.
We ended up chatting with an American guy named Chuck whom we had seen at breakfast a few times. It ended up that Chuck was from Pittsburgh although now living in the Bay Area and his “internet addicted wife” Jane, was a few doors down, updating her blog. After a while of talking, we decided to grab lunch when Jane got back so we wandered to one of the river-side restaurants and spent the afternoon eating, talking and drinking a fair amount of Singha (although both Chuck and I realized as we were leaving that we wished we had discovered the big Singha mini-keg contraption that was sitting at someone else’s table!). Finally! I discover someone here who can drink as much beer as me! :-D Similar to the transvestite dinner, this place had a band and they were practicing doing reasonably good covers of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, a band I love, but after hearing “Under the Bridge” for the 10th time, it got a little old…
Our dishes at the Thai Farm Cooking School
Well lunch rambled on into happy hour cocktails in Chuck and Jane’s bungalow.
They are a really nice, hilarious couple that has been married 30 years (hard to believe) and we spent the evening trading travel stories. They ended up coming to Thailand on a fluke - they were supposed to go to Croatia with their son and his girlfriend who is Serbian, when they found out that the girlfriend was not a US citizen and only had a Yugoslavian passport (which I presume is somewhat defunct at this point considering that Yugoslavia hasn’t been a country in quite a while). Apparently, her “hippy” parents forgot to ever get her citizenship!
Cindy relaxing on the patio at Baan Orapin, Chiang Mai
Suddenly we realized it was already 10:00pm, we had killed both their bottle of wine and half their bottle of rum and we were hungry so we plodded out in the rain to the night market and ended up having a pretty good dinner before heading home, wishing them well on their trip to Phuket tomorrow and passing out for the night.
Grilled Fish in Chiang Mai Market
Our next stop is off to some mountainous areas in Northwest Thailand including Pai, Soppong and Mae Hong Son. We opted for the four hour mini-van instead of the six hour bus and are leaving this afternoon. Updates from the road
Sa wat dee