Working for Food
December 13th, two days before we left Chiang Mai, we worked for our food.We have been staying in an apartment like residence here in Chiang Mai for a month.We have a little restaurant where the sweetest 26 year old girl named Bow (pronounced Boe) works pretty much every day cooking, serving and busing the tables.We have gotten to know her a little even though there is quite a language barrier.This morning we went down to get some breakfast and she was working by herself and it was kind of busy.I was so itching to get in the kitchen and help her but I knew that it would take more time to explain to me how to do things than for her just to do it herself.But, I just couldn't sit there and do nothing.The tables needed to be cleaned so I just started picking up dishes and brining them in the kitchen.Bow seemed grateful so I decided to start washing the dishes.After a while she brought me an apron and I ended up helping her and even cooking a little for most of the afternoon.She let me cook some chicken curry and fried noodles for our family.She also made, and let me help, papaya salad. Emma got in on the help and dried and put away dishes as well as swept the floor.Bow wouldn't let me pay for breakfast or lunch.She also decided to close early the next day and take us sightseeing.It definitely ranked high as one of my most fun days.
The next day her boyfriend picked us up and we went to Warorot Market, a very busy market selling all kinds of food and clothes.We bought some kind of fried pastry filled with custard, just out of the fryer and some coconut patty concoction.They were probably the most delicious treats I have ever had.We have noticed that we have yet to see an oven in Thailand.Everything from Pad Thai to fried bananas are cooked on top of a gas burner.
Then we went over to the Sunday walking street by Thapae gate.Bow and the kids sat by the canal and fed the birds and fish and then we walked around the vendor booths.We had shopped this area many times, but it was particularly special that day.We hope to go back when Bow gets married in a few years.Who knows?
We have been amazed at how much food is available at any time of the day anywhere.No need to pack a picnic, there are vendors at the park, waterfalls, temples, and anywhere in between.From fresh fruits to fried cockroaches your particular hankering will be satisfied.Another thing we noticed was that in spite of the plethora of available food to eat, you won't see many overweight Thais.It could just be genetics, the fact they eat small portions about 4-5 times a day, not many Thais eating a Big Mac, or the fact they start early eating very spicy food which supposedly helps metabolize fat.At any rate, obesity doesn't seem to be a National problem.Emma and I took a cooking class together, which was very nice.It was my second class and her first.I enjoyed the first one so much that I wanted Emma to experience it as well.A few staples in most Thai foods are hot peppers, fish sauce (which smells awful), Thai ginger (Galanghal), garlic and sugar and lots of rice.We have all learned a lot about the different fruits and vegetables and yes BUGS!Take a look out our photo album to see the different delicious cuisine.
- Songthaew - "red taxis" are trucks that have been outfitted with a camper top and two benches in the back for passengers.In fact "songthaew" means "two seats"
- Tuk tuks - Not really sure how these are constructed, but I'm pretty sure they are put together in someone's garage utilizing left over engine parts and scraps of metal. I think a motorcycle is taken apart and a covered seat maybe taken from a bus is fitted on the back half of the motorcycle.Just look at the pics, I'm not qualified to explain.
- Samlors - 3-wheeled bicycle taxis usually driven by older, slim men with the legs of a very fit 20 year old.
- Taxis - The kind we are used to, regular cars.But, make sure you work out a fair or have them turn on their meters before hopping in.
- Scooters - Well, you know what these are
Culture and People
There are so many wonderful things about Thailand and its people.They all seem to love children and are very tolerant of energetic kids.They are also helpful without wanting something in return.Their predominant religion is Buddishm which believes pretty strongly in karma and reincarnation.We saw many monks in Chiang Mai as there are many temples there.The temples act as schools for regular academics as well as religious training.Some of the novice monks start out as young as nine.Being a monk is not a lifelong commitment.A monk can enter or leave the temple any time during their training.Only men can be monks, but some women are allowed to be what is called Bhikkhunis.Don't know much about them, but they virtually live a monk's life and usually reside near a temple.But, I'm sure it's more complicated than that.While there seems to be a lot of food available, they are not comfortable wasting it.I noticed our friend Bow, the cook, at the little restaurant in our residence, saying a little prayer when she had to throw away any food.It's a little humbling.They are also very affectionate with each other, giving lots of hugs and they really liked touching Sam and Emma's hair.The most unfortunate thing about the connection between us and many Thai people is the language barrier.Thai is a pretty difficult language to just pick up.With a different alphabet (44 letters) and difficult pronunciations and inflections, we were constantly challenged and deflated by our failed attempts at communicating.However, many Thais know enough English to be able to communicate on a basic level.
Below are some of the sights we experienced in and around Chiang Mai.We are so behind on our blog right now that we are just going to be brief.
The highest peak in Thailand sits on a 48,240 hectare national park.Doi Internon is 2565 meters high and getting to the park from Chiang Mai is a relatively short (1 hour) drive.We were not able to see all of the park because we got a late start, but we did stop and explore the Mae Ya waterfall.Then we drove further into the park to the peak.It was quite cold up there, but the area was beautiful.We didn't stay long but we enjoyed the scenic drive.To tour the area, you need to take your own car or book a tour.The different points of interest are quite spread out.We rented a car that day, which worked well for us so we could go at our own pace.
Just a short scooter ride away was a town called Bo Sang which is known for its Umbrella making.We stopped there to see the many stages of this traditional pastime.I'm not much of an umbrella person, but it was interesting to see the start to finish and the people there painting.Emma and Sam had images painting on their clothes.Emma a blue butterfly on her skirt and Sam, who happened to wear a white shirt, had a larger dragon painted on his.
Hot springs - San Kamphaeng
After we left Bo Sang we rode about 30 km to a well known hot spring in San Kamphaeng.It was very popular and crowded the day we went, as it was Saturday.There were camping facilities, flower gardens, small pools for children to swim, hot spring "geysers", a stream of hot water where people set and put their feet in the water.The stream wound around the grounds and people lined up like dominoes along the edge and enjoyed the soothing water.As with anything Thai, there was not only food available to buy and eat, but eggs for sale that were placed in bamboo baskets and hooked on nails in a "pond" of hot spring water and cooked.It was a popular event at the park.
Chiang Mai Cultural Center and National Museum
There were two places we visited to learn a little more about Chiang Mai and Thai culture.The Chiang Mai Cultural Center directly behind the 3 Kings monument was well worth the trip.The Center has been kept up well and the exhibits are interesting and informative.You walk from one room to the next, each focusing on a particular era in history.The kids really enjoyed it too.The center had mock villages set up showing the ways of life in the particular time in history.The National Museum was quite a disappointment.The people that worked there sat around a TV watching some kind of soap opera while we did our best to navigate around this worn out museum that didn't seem to be kept up well.It had a very cold and unwelcoming feeling.However, some of the exhibits were interesting and I think our take home from that was that Burma had ruled Chiang Mai in the 1700's for about 200 years.
We had heard about the "World Insect Museum" and thought the kids would really enjoy it.When we got there we found more of one man's life and love of insects (mostly mosquitos) in a small two story house.It was quite amazing that everything in the place was collected by him and his wife.He and his wife have been studying mosquitos and infectious diseases spread through mosquitos.He was somewhat of a local celebrity and was known in town as the "mosquito man".He used himself as a human sacrifice in order to catch and identity the many different species of mosquitos.In addition to the mosquitos, he had quite a collection of butterflies, beetles, dragonflies, rocks, fossils.Sam was hoping for live bugs that "did" something, as he put it, but he soon began to appreciate all of the "cool" specimens.Primarily the butterflies that looked like green leaves, moths that looked like dried brown leaves.All in all it was worth the trip and a pretty impressive collection.
We took off on our scooters to see the most famous temple in Chiang Mai.It was a scenic 12km drive and the temperature was just right.I can understand why people like to ride on motorcycles. The temple Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep Rajvoraviahra sits high on the peaks of Doi Suthep and has incredible views down to Chiang Mai.The story is, the site was selected by sending an elephant to roam at will up the mountainside.When it reached this spot, it trumpeted, circled three times, and kneeled down and thus interpreted as a sign indicating an auspicious site.
waterfalls We drove our scooters about 10 miles out of Chiang Mai on the same road that heads up to the Doi Suthep temple.It was at these waterfalls where Brent and I were inspired to "just do it" and try a delicious treat of meal worm and termite.We have the pictures to prove it.We passed by the baskets of fried scorpions, cockroaches, ants, termites and variety of worms and at first did the oooh gross!Then we started really thinking about it and knew that we wouldn't regret it if we tried it.Something to tell our grandkids one day, I guess.So on our way out I picked the least, disgusting looking worm, and threw it quickly down the hatch and chased it with copious amounts of water.Brent would not be out done and decided to try what looked like a termite and actually bit into it.Not too bad.Since the "critters" were not alive, it really wasn't too big of a deal.The falls were quite nice and Emma and I went on a little trek and followed the falls up the hill where more falls were found and several kids were goofing off, or friends were having picnics.It seemed to go on forever.When Emma and I met up with Sam and dad, Sam was playing in his underwear with another boy, splashing around in the streams formed by the large rocks at the bottom of the falls.We really enjoyed it.
Wiang Kum Kam - ancient city
We quickly understood, or not too quickly, why it's best to book a tour for this trip.The ancient city of Wiang Kum Kam is listed on most of the maps, but there are no specific directions.So, again, we figured, we've made it this far just winging it, surely we can find some old long lost ancient city.We drove a little south from Chiang Mai, again on our scooters, and somehow made it to the vicinity of the ancient city.We stopped and asked directions at the gas station and the attendant basically just pointed in the direction we needed to go (Thai's are not good at giving directions).We took off and saw a sign that had Wiang Kum Kam written on it.That was pretty easy we thought, but when we looked around there wasn't anything to see.So, we drove down a small street and asked one of the food vendors where this place was.He seemed to indicate we were on the right path and just pointed in the direction we needed to go.We still had no idea where it was actually located.But, we would give it a try.We drove and drove winding onto small streets that would lead us to a series of smaller streets that split into 3 or more streets and then we decided we were definitely lost in the lost city.We passed by a home construction site and asked some people standing there and were given more directions, but this time with actual "turn there and then turn over there" , better than nothing.We set off again and then found ourselves on the smallest street in town with chickens running everywhere.We began to suspect this was a funny trick the townspeople play on tourists.Then we saw a postman.Surely he would know where this place is, (Do ancient city's receive mail?).He gave us directions that seemed easy enough.Sure enough we drove a bit further down another small, winding street and saw a few horse drawn carriages and men sitting around.We parked our scooters and walked around a temple and a destroyed building with just the foundation and a few bricks left from what used to be walls.Wow, not much of an ancient city.We walked up to one of the men there and asked if there was more.He pointed to the carriages and encouraged us to take a tour.It was very cheap, so we decided to do it.Oh, we finally realized, there isn't one place you go to, there are places all over town with the remains of some of the temples and buildings found.Then it all made sense, and again we somehow managed to successfully find what we were looking for and were taken from one site to another on our pleasant pony carriage ride.
Some info about the city:In 1984, just outside the modern Chiang Mai metropolitan area, archaeologists uncovered the remains of an ancient city. Research concluded that this was the city of Wiang Kum Kam, one of many fortified cities built by King Mengrai as he consolidated his hold on the north. Nearly 20 temple sites have been uncovered in the area, which lies between the Ping river and the Lamphun highway, south of Mahidol Road. The buildings were buried under ground by years of flooding.
Although most of the sites are not much more than platforms and ruined chedis, there are two working temples in the area that date from the city's heyday at the end of the thirteenth century. One is your logical starting point, Wat Chedi Liam. The other, more vibrant temple is Wat Khan Tom (also known as Wat Chang Kum), where in fact the spirit of King Mengrai is said to still reside.
Baan Thai Cooking School (Baan means "home" in Thai) - I (Susan) signed up for a Thai cooking class.I got picked up at my hotel in a Songthaew.I was the first person, so I set in the back by myself wondering if I was the only one that signed up for this class.The truck eventually filled up and wound around Chiang Mai until we arrived at the school.It must be a fairly popular school because there were two other large groups there when we arrived.I was placed with my group and we started introductions.Dylan and Alisha from Australia were making their way across south East Asia until they arrived in Holland where they planned to stay and work for a year.Then there were two girls that had just graduated from Uni as they call it in England, and had been to the Figi islands, Australia and then to Thailand.A German couple, Eika and Marcus were the last couple in the group, and then me, the lone American.We met up with people from other groups throughout the day.We picked the dishes we wanted to make and then the school would group us together depending on which dish we chose.So, we were able to meet people from different groups, which was nice.We have noticed, so far, we haven't come across a lot of Americans.There are definitely more in Thailand than South Africa though.Like I mentioned before, a lot of retired men come here and stay here.Like 70 year old Burt (who is actually Dutch) who lives here with his 24 year old girlfriend.Anyway, I digress.The cooking class was so much fun and very educational.We walked to a local market and were given a quick tutorial in the different fruits and vegetables.Thai's use a variety of fruits, leaves, stems, flowers, roots and whatever else comes from a plant.They don't waste much.In most of their dishes you will find lemongrass, galangal (Thai ginger), kaffir lime leaves, lots of peppers (one they call mouse s*** chilis), types of mushrooms I had never heard of, three kinds of garlic, about three varieties of basil, two types of coriander leaves (cilantro).They also have fresh chicken blood for sale at the market which they put in most of their authentic Thai dishes.We were given a cookbook with pictures and names of the herbs, spices, vegetables and fruits used in the dishes and then a collection of recipes that included more dishes than we made that day.The best part was eating all of the dishes we prepared and sharing with people in our group.Roasted cashew nut with chicken, seafood in coconut milk, Green curry chicken, spring rolls, fried bananas, papaya salad, Pad Thai, and on and on.We each made 5 dishes + one curry paste, plus we sampled different fruits and fruit dishes before we even started.We were stuffed by the end of the day.We said our goodbyes and all headed back to our respective hotels.
Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School - I had such a great time at the cooking school that I signed up for another one. This time I brought Emma with me.I really thought she would enjoy it.This one was a bit further from town and had its own garden.It sounded quite nice to walk through the garden and see how some of their local veggies were grown.We all met up at a large market and given a quick tutorial in the foods there.It was a different experience than the other school.A much more intimate setting with just one group of people, in a quiet lush area outside of Chiang Mai.Emma seemed to enjoy the experience until she rubbed her eyes with her fingers that she had just cut the hot peppers with.Her eye was burning pretty badly, so we got up from the table and walked over to the sinks to start washing them out.Our teacher came over to us and lifted up Emma's skirt and started pouring water all over the leg opposite to the hurt eye.I guess it was something similar to reflexology or something.Emma's eye started feeling better and we got back to cooking.One of the dishes Emma and I picked was Pad Thai, which Emma made all by herself.Very impressive.
Chiang Mai Yeepeng Festival
This festival was held this year from November 10-13.We were caught in the middle of it while we were here, which just made busy Chiang Mai even busier.The Lanna people pay homage to their ancestors with joss sticks and candles called "Loi Kamod" or "Loi Fire" 2-3 days before the full moon day.The kites floating around the city light up the sky like embers burning in the clouds.It was quite a beautiful site to see.The only down side to the festival has been a brigade of fireworks through all hours of the night.Not just for the 3-4 days of the festival but for an entire week!I don't mean just colorful bright lights in the sky but literally bombs going off right outside our apartment.We were surprised they didn't wake the kids up most nights.
The night bazaar is appropriately named since it is at night and pretty bazaar.Vendors begin setting up their booths starting just at dusk and you can find just about anything within this area.It spans for 3-5 Km with one main area located in an open plaza and many small booths lined up and down the streets.The paths between the booths are very narrow, perhaps to keep you close to the product or just because of a lack of space.In any event, it is very overwhelming because of the amount of items to view.Most of it is the same and that is where the bartering comes in.This has to be one of the more difficult aspects of shopping at this bazaar.You know it is necessary to do because they typically won't offer and it is the only way to get a legitimate deal.However, there will be a vendor that offers a discount up front.Although most of them over shoot the price expecting you to low ball them anyway.Either way it is mentally draining and makes shopping even that much more grueling.All of this being said there are several restaurants that surround the plaza area and you are able to get a semi inexpensive meal at most of them.Another nice thing that is setup in several locations around the plaza are Thai massages.Now most of you know the Thai are very well known for their massages so we all decided to try one of these booths out.Emma, Sam and Dad all decided to take a turn.Mom decided to walk around the plaza for an hour to attempt to get a little shopping done.The kids and Dad all had a wonderful time and after an hour passed it only cost $15 for all three of us with tip!You can't beat that.
The Lanna Golf Club is a local favorite course and fairly cheap if you are on a budget.In Thailand, they don't allow you to carry your own clubs or even drive a cart without a caddy.Therefore, Sam and I had a friendly Thai lady that adored Sam and gave him treats throughout our 9 hole golfing excursion.Sam had been really anxious to play golf, not so much for the experience of hitting the little white ball, but more for the experience of driving the golf cart.He pretty much drove it the whole time we played.He was also our putter on most holes.All in all we had a wonderful time and a lovely father son bonding experience.I did manage to play golf one other day prior to this outing with a gentleman from Holland I met at Smith Residence.We played on the oldest golf course in Asia called Gymkhana.It wasn't quite as nice as Lanna but had a beautiful 800 year old tree that was the center piece to the place.The 70 year young gentleman I played with found this course simple and special to his heart and I wasn't about to spoil that for him.In any event, I haven't really had a phenomenal experience on a golf course yet with regards to the beauty of the course but am determined to find something along our journey.
Chiang Rai - City
Chiang Rai is only about a 2 ½ hour drive from Chiang Mai.We wanted to make this run not only for the sites but we needed to cross the border so our passports would be validated for another 15 days.The weird coincidence in this whole thing is we planned to stay in Thailand for only 6 weeks.When you first enter the country they give you a 30 day tourist visa.After that point those that wanted to stay longer typically could run up to Mynamar (Burma) or Laos and cross over to show they left the country.They can then return the same day and get an additional 30 days on their passports.However, while we were here they changed the law to only allow a 15 extension for border runs.Since we planned for only 6 weeks it works out exactly perfect for our visas.I think God has been on our side this whole trip.Susan and I have decided our new family name needs to be the Magoos because we were constantly dodging and lucking into things as we shuffled around with our myopic vision.We decided to book a place for the night in Chiang Rai so we could enjoy several sites in the area while doing our border jump in the same trip.The run can be done in one day but you will have a long and grueling 12 hour day.The place we booked in Chiang Rai was called Laluna Hotel & Resort.You can find out more about this hotel at http://www.lalunaresortchiangrai.com/.The restaurant and bar is onsite and is called Le Bar or something along those lines.It is open 24 hours and serves incredible food.It is a little pricey but is a nice atmosphere and worth at least one night of dining.Everything about this resort was phenomenal except for the morning breakfast.This is included in the price but left much to be desired.
The place where we entered Burma unfortunately didn't do much for us.The Burma town of Tachilekborders Thailand at Mai Sae, a small bustling town in Thailand.When we entered Burma we were bombarded by zealous street vendors trying to take us on their tuk tuks or sell us cartons of cigarettes.They even surrounded the kids trying to sell them cartons of Marlboros, they would stop at nothing.It was quite annoying actually.We found a less aggressive tuk tuk driver and took a short tour through town.We made three stops and then back to Thailand.
Temple of the Enrobed Elephant The architecture was very unique, much different than you find on the temples in Thailand. The inside walls were painted with murals depicting different scenes of the Buddha, and the Buddha statue on the central alter was white with a rounded face and red lips (again very different from the Buddhas you see in Thailand).
Golden Paya ,or stupa, that was built as a replica of Yangon's famous Shwedagon Pagoda.Impressive size and gold exterior make this a visually interesting sight.
Karin Longneck TribeThe women in this tribe wear gold rings around their necks and add to these as they get older and their necks literally stretch.This began as a protective measure, as wearing these gold rings would protect their vulnerable necks in case of an attack.They actually stopped this tradition at some point, but realized they could make money as a tourist attraction and took up the tradition again.We saw some of the kids and women do some of the traditional dances, but they were not enthused.It was as if they were yanked from their favorite TV show to entertain the tourists.It was interesting to view their culture however and we were ultimately glad we went.
Golden Triangle - Thailand
This is the point where you can see the countries of Burma, Laos and Thailand converge.We were there for just a brief stop, but we all enjoyed it.The biggest attraction was the giant, and I mean giant, Buddha that was set on a mock dragon ship and surrounded by elephant statues.It was quite a spectacle.While we were there an attractive Thai women walked up to me, stood beside me and put her arm around me while she motioned for her friend to take a picture of us.She never really spoke to me or made an attempt to explain why she wanted a picture taken with me.I had Brent take a picture of us just so that we could have it for our blog.For a minute I thought she might have mistaken me for a celebrity, but I don't think that was it.