Chiang Mai - Days 1 & 2

First thing to say about our time in Chiang Mai- the guesthouse we have been staying is adorable, lovely, peaceful, and all that, but a bit of a splurge. Nothing crazy, but its a good think I love it, even at ~$70/night. The first pic is of our first guesthouse, which was all zen on the outside/public areas, but needed some updates to the rooms. The second one, Baan Orapin is featured in the next several shots. So, after a bit of confusion on our first morning, we got all checked in here, and I got a lunch recco for a place down the street- Regina. I fell in love instantly as it was in the back of an adorable antique shop, and their philosophy on life seemed to be based on the song "What a wonderful world" (hence the wooden plaque featured prominently as you make your way to the back). The back was filled with cats (who were well trained, though a bit skinny), old little Buddha busts, and a beautiful teak portico thing. I seriously loved it.

After lunch we headed into town to wander around. 2 things about that: 1) Chiang Mai is no sleepy little town, and 2) I think I need a lesson on Wats. I mean- there are TONS of them inside the old city walls, and other than small differences, they all kinda seem the same. We were extremely lucky to come upon a ceremony going on in the cool teak one, so we got to hear monks chanting & such. Oh! And in one, there was either an actual elderly monk sitting in deep meditation amongst other statues of monks, or a really good wax statue of one, but I really couldnt tell, and was too timid to actually take a photo of him. Another note: I seems to be acutely nervous about somehow offending monks- I fully allowed us to miss a major cool old ruin here b/c we would have had to walk through a bunch of monks at work/play and I felt like we weren't allowed back there. Oops. Oh well. We did find a cute cafe to relax in (more watermelon smoothies!), and a travel agent to book our onward travels (yet more cash withdrawals- no credit cards here- oof).

After a lovely dinner along the riverside (a favorite evening activity), we retired early b/c we had an exciting cooking class the next day. So, bright & early, we met Rika, who was to be our adorable guide into the arts of Thai cuisine. We loaded into an open mini-bus/truck & met our fellow chefs-in-training. Some really cool people, and all coincidentally from Canada. After picking up a couple of younger girls who sat in the cab of the truck, we headed out to a local market, where Rika quickly walked us through the various ingredients that are commonly used. We learned about the difference between sticky rice & regular jasmine, all of the different sauce options (fish, oyster, mushroom, soy, and some others I think), and also about coconuts. Then we got to wander around a bit on our own, while her colleagues grabbed the necessaries for our meals. We all got to pick out of three choices for a soup, a curry, a stir-fry, a noodle dish, and a dessert. I went with the following: Thom Yam soup w/shrimp, yellow curry, chicken w/basil, pad Thai, and mango w/sticky rice. We then all hopped back in the truck for the 20 minute drive out to their farm. What a facility! It managed to be pretty, quaint, clean & efficient all at once. We got started by leaning how to make rice (both kinds), then prepared our curry pastes. Now, she said that two chillies would be mild, spicy would be three or four. Not wanting to be a total wimp, I decided to add one to my mix. As I pounded away the mix in my mortar w/my pestle, little did I know just how deadly even that would be!!! After our curries were pounded correctly, we went out to the garden to see all the fresh ingredients grown on-site: papayas, bananas, eggplants (various types, lemon grass, ginger roots, coconuts, & mangoes (not currently in season), amongst other spices & such. After this walk, it was time to make our soups! Easy stuff, really- throw stuff in a pot, boil a bit, add shrimp, then eat! It was at this point that I realized I was in trouble though. Again, I went with about half of a hot chilli, and the soup was soo spicy I could barely eat it. Added sugar & coconut milk to help, but... well, very flavorful, but wow. I immediately started worrying about my curry, but couldn't change it at that point! Curry was also really easy to make, but it sounded like there was a much more complicated way to do it. The heating up of things was precise, but I can't remember much now. (Fish sauce should only be added when water/milk is boiling, I do remember that!) once that was done, we set it aside to make our stir fry. Again- super easy! Thai food is all quick, really. Also, after the soup I leaned my lesson & did NOT include the hot chillies. Finally, around 2pm, we got to sit down for our feast. So, my basil chicken was great- I even ate the long beans we included! - but my yellow curry? WOW. Holy crap I thought I was going to die. I always though yellow was supposed to be a milder one, but it turns out any of them can be just as spicy as any other. The best I could do was fish pieces of pumpkin, chicken, or potato out of the sauce, let as much curry drip off, and eat it with a ton of rice. Sheesh! Anyway, after lunch, we were all in food comas, but had to get through our noodle dishes & desserts. Interesting note about pad Thai: we didn't use any oil to cook the noodles- just a mixed up sauce. Also- frying eggs in a wok is cool! We packed these dishes up in doggie bags (which, sadly, is still sitting in my mini-fridge), and move on to dessert! So- I learned that what makes mango sticky rice sooo fabulous is the padaman leaves that get infused in the coconut milk. Well. And great mangoes. Soo good though. Once we were well & truly stuffed, we piled back into the truck for our ride back home. Fun day!

We were so exhausted & full though, that we made a halfhearted visit to the night market, and I then ended up having a late "dinner" of fries by myself at yet another restaurant on the river. It was important though b/c the next day was our Elephant trekking day, otherwise known as my favorite day!!