The biggest city in the north of Thailand. Home to many temples and the famous sunday night market. The streets, as we were entering, were lined with coffee houses and restaurants. An old stone wall that circles the 'old quarter' is lined with fountains and well maintained grass and flower beds. It was quick to find accommodation but slow finding one that wasn't already full. We were beginning to notice Chiang Mai is very popular with local people, holiday makers, backpackers and expats. Who can blame them? It's like a stylish, less busy and more charming sister of Bangkok.
As I was unable, due to a vile stomach bug, to attend the Luang Prabang (Laos) cooking school on Christmas day, we decided to partake in the Thai cooking school called 'Gap'. Much recommended to us by other travellers and the trusty lonely planet. It was constructed very differently to the Laos one. Both pro's and con's on either side, one example was the visit to the local market. In Laos, as they showed us around they were also buying the produce from the stalls that they were showing. However, at the Thai market they showed us around but didn't buy anything, because it had already been bought in bulk and was being prepared by a dozen 'helpers'. Put it this way, in Laos we were cooking ourselves including preparation... In Thailand we were just putting the stuff in woks and then onto plates as it had all already been prepared for us. At the Thai course we made 5 dishes each, which we all had to eat at lunch and then 3 dishes to take home, one of which we didnt cook. The food was amazing though, and we got given a posh book stuffed with all Thai recipe's. So watch out family we're coming to spice up your food (and quite literally too, as chilli is added and cooked with everything)!
As I mentioned earlier we did infact go to the Sunday night market. Apparently the biggest market in Northern Thailand. It definately lived up to that description! It was huge, it lined about 4 very long streets. Stalls selling clothes, hand-made arts and crafts, food and all sorts of weird and wonderful things! The thing about Thailand is the 'night market' is present in nearly every town you visit. It's like a competition although no-one can win because they all sell the same things, whether the market is big or small. What was quite funny was the old monks joining in on the feast of the tourists. Opening the temples and setting up stalls as well as letting the locals sell food in thier grounds. It was so packed you couldn't move most of the time. Shoulder to butt trying to look at stalls, and forget stopping to buy or haggle as this was a constant move of traffic. But while you were stuck waiting for the old guy with the shlong camera to stop chatting up the young Thai stall lady, there was always street buskers. Ranging from blind men singing to young girls dancing to Thai music dressed in traditional clothing. That was the best bit of the market, the constant entertainment. We ended up buying two butterflies in frames (hope we can get them past customs) and a silver chain for Daniel (which turned out not to be silver, judging by the black smudge left around his neck) and a silver ring (which we are waiting for it to turn black).
During our time in N. Thailand we had seen many posters advertising a 'reggae festival' in Chiang Mai. Hosted of course by the neighbouring 'hippie' town of Pai. The festival would last for 3 days, would be situated next to a lake, and the leading artist would be Bob Marley's son Ky-mani Marley. So we had decided to hit the festival for just 1 day as Daniel had mentioned that he had never been to a proper festival. We arrived to the promised lake, just a 40min motorbike drive outside the city of Chiang Mai. However, when we arrived late afternoon the festival was dead. Stalls, chairs, stage... but no humans to be seen. Well if that wasn't a warning enough, I started to think it had been closed down. When we eventually found someone they told us that no-one comes until 7pm to watch the evening artists, and that it's been a ghost town for the past 2 days. My first question was; 'its a festival, right? Not an evening concert! Why does no-one listen to artists that are on from lunch time?' His reaction was very much how the festival continued. Nobody knew what was going on. The event organisation was so bad that there were bands... but no fans! However, my optimistic side kicked in, because I wanted to make this festival for Daniel his first and best. Hard as the odds were against us, after a bottle of 'Sangsom' whiskey in our bellies, and parking our bums on the 'haystack' seats provided, I was counting on Mr Marley and the last night of the festival crowd to make it a memorable one.
From 9pm until 1am we stood waiting for the mysterious Marley to make his appearance. Finally, he arrived to a small crowd, so small we were at the front with PLENTY of room. We listened to 3 songs and left after one hell of a day! It's hard not to be sad about it, but we don't regret going as it certainly was a 'chilled out experience'. I guess that's what you get when hippies are trying to organise anything :)
So that's what we did in Chiang Mai really... Oh apart from a visit to our first McDonald's in over 3 months after the reggae festival to cheer ourselves up!