Chiang Mai had been recommended to us by a fellow traveller, after spending nearly a month on various beach resorts ( I know the hardship!) it was great to be back in a bustling city. The first thing that we noticed were the monks dressed in orange robes. Men and woman of all ages don the robes and follow Buddhism. There are lots of temples in Chiang Mai and you could go inside them and see the monks praying at the many large ornate statues of Buddha. Every temple we visited seemed to try and out do the last with more and more gold leaf being placed around the large shrines. From seated Buddha's to reclining Buddha's they were everywhere and would be for the remainder of our time in Thailand and Myanmar.
Chiang Mai wasn't just about Buddhism though, it's famous for it's varied and tasty food. We took the opportunity to take part in a Thai Cooking Class with Ann at Zabb e Lee cooking school. It was just the two of us so it felt very personal, the day started with a visit to the local market to buy our ingredients. The various fruit and veg available in Thailand is simply incredible, everything from Mango's to Dragon Fruit, Dried Shrimp to slimy Oyster Mushrooms our taste buds were in for a treat.
Highlights included a yummy local noodle dish called Khao Soi made by Tim and Steamed Fish Curry made by Bee. It was fascinating understanding how much fish sauce and palm sugar to use along with the different Thai Basil flavours. Tim relished being able to add more chillies to get his perfect fiery red curry paste. Ann then gave us both a fantastic recipe book with all the different recipes in, we look forward to cooking up a Thai storm when we're back in the UK.
Other highlights included an evening watching Muay Thai or Thai Boxing. Thailand's main sport allows both punching and kicking and is great fun to watch. A selection of international fighters helped keep the fights interesting as did the crazy commentator shouting in broken English.
We also got to explore Chang Mai's famous walking night market. A large a sprawling market that covers a whole down town street. The various unique handicrafts made a nice change from the generic fare found at most Thai markets. It also offered a great opportunity to buy some late birthday gifts for friends and family back home.
A slightly less enjoyable morning was spent visiting Chiang Mai Zoo. The zoo is famous for it's Pandas but in stark contrast to Singapore Zoo this zoo feels old, run-down and frankly unpleasant. It wasn't that the animals weren't well looked after as there was plenty of food and the enclosures were of a reasonable size. It was more the dilapidated look and feel of the place made everything feel a bit sad. It was nice seeing the two Pandas especially learning about how one had been born at the zoo but overall the zoo left us disappointed.
We jumped back on our hired scooter and continued up the hill to Doi Suthep a temple featuring a large gold leaf Stupa and lot's of various Buddha images. It was great being in a more natural environment and as our bad memories of the zoo began to fade the sun came out and smiles returned to our faces.