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Chiang Mai - the second attempt (5/29 - 6/1)

THAILAND | Tuesday, 12 June 2012 | Views [876]

Before I left my last location, I wrote the world's best journal entry for Chiang Mai.  It was inspiring, thoughtful, witty, laden with perfect pictures, and probably would have been the answer for world peace.  Since it apparently did not post, none of these claims can be disputed.  So I now present to you: the condensed version of Chiang Mai on three hours of sleep.  There will be no passion to this story since mine is all negatively focused on the rooster that decided to call my window "home" last night and never stopped.

Chiang Mai - arrival
Getting to Chiang Mai was incredibly easy.  By incredibly easy I mean: 9am "taxi" from Koh Tao didn't show until 9:15, 15 minute ride to 9:30 ferry took years off my life, 2 hour boat ride to Koh Samui after a bit too much drinking may have been met with tears and the taxi ride from Samui to the airport was packed with smelly people.  But then I got to the Koh Samui airport and it looked like this:

What's that? A free buffet, computers, and full on shopping center in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen?  There were also water features galore and any amenity you could want.  After a rough week of being surrounded by amazing people making memories of a lifetime and living on the beach, I clearly deserved this.

From Samui I connected to Bangkok and from Bangkok it was up to Chiang Mai.  One of my dormmates from Koh Tao had coincidentally booked the same flight, so I had a travel buddy.  Life was not hard.

We checked into a hostel and post shower, all my roommates were back.  We went off for some cheap beers, cheap margaritas, horrible kareoke, fantastic jazz bar, and decent burgers that the boys were obsessed with.  I knew immediately that I would love Chiang Mai (especially if my skin would ever stop itching).

Day One

There was so much to see and do in Chiang Mai that my entire morning was an attempt at deciding.  Once I had booked my next few days, I returned to grab a roommate for the sights of Chiang Mai.
Stop one was Wat Jediluang and City Pillar.  There becomes a point when you are traveling through SE Asia that you become "templed out".  We were pretty much there.  City Pillar was a totally fresh breath of air.  Panda, a current dormmate from China who decided to choose an American name everyone would remember, made me pretty happy when she said it reminded her of Cambodia (as if I had nothing to look forward to for the next 25 days).

From there we stopped at Wat Prasingh where the grounds may have outdone the actual temple.  It was pretty enough, but I was ready for the grandest-est-est of them all: Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.  I hired a private driver to take me the 20+ km outside the city up the most twisted road I have ever seen.  Once my heart started beating regularly again, he showed me the way to the temple:

Irregular heart beating started again as I climbed over 300 stairs in 90+ degree heat.  I'm pretty sure those clothes will never recover from all the sweat.  But the views from the top could not be beat.

Though I did dread this:

By the time I got home, there was only one sensible plan of action: shower, more cheap beers, Muy Thai boxing, and a (latenight) return to the burger place.  We were a little sad that there was no girl fight (apparently diarrhea brings down the strongest of people), but the boys thought that the burger more than compensated for it.  When Josh proclaimed that it was the best burger on this side of the Mekong I had to laugh; when he later said it was "better than a mother's love" I told him he needed to go home for the first time in two years.

Day 2I was picked up nice and early on day 2 for something I had been looking forward to since I decided on Thailand: a cooking class.  We were taken to the market to learn the differences between all different fruits, veggies, noodles, chiles, garlic, etc.  Then it was back to class to learn the following:

  • Pad Thai - As long as you can provide me the proper ingredients and cookware, I am a pad thai master!  We learned how to make it all in one wok, but still didn't need to do any dishes.
  • Curry paste - a purchased paste will normally have about 6-8 ingredients.  Made with love by mortar and pestal, mine had 17.
  • Slow simmering curry from said paste - massaman curry: I think I love you
  • Chicken with cashew nuts - my classic standby.  I was pleasantly surprised that the Thai place near me at home serves up an almost identical version
  • Tom Yum soup - sweet, sour, salty, and insanely delicious
  • Dessert - ohhhhh sticky rice with mango, I miss you already.  The rice is made with coconut milk and was colored blue by a flower.  This made a great visual contrast to the white sauce and perfect mango.

Obviously I was stuffed past oblivion after 6 hours of cooking and eating.  I went home with a full cookbook, certificate that I am a fantastic Thai chef, and some leftovers.  After a food coma, I actually did not go out for cheap beers.  Instead, we took a walk through the night bazaar.  I would love to write about how much I bought, but at this point I was surviving off $0.50 for two days.  Somehow homegoods did not make that budget. Either did presents; my pictures, memories, dive videos, and scars will be all I have to remember Thailand.

Day 3My final day in Chiang Mai has been deemed THE ADVENTURE DAY (please read that in a booming announcer voice).  A 7:30 departure is not difficult when you are heading off to an orchid and butterfly farm!  Alright, I hope at least one person took that statement seriously.  It actually was our first stop, though I am still not sure why.  I was ready to get to the first REAL stop:  Breakfast with this guy at Jumbo Camp.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! That's right: I spent a day with the elephants! After feeding him breakfast, scratching below his eye (apparently the favorite spot), and getting the grossest kiss of my life (a lot of suction and enough spit left on my face/in my hair to bathe in) it was time to ride!  I was the first to grab the top of Runtip's ear and hoist myself up there.  For anyone who is familiar with my lack of coordination, you are welcome for the laughter that visual must have conjured up.  But I didn't care because I was riding an elephant!  We were both given a short ride to get aquainted and then the long ride began.  I have never riden a horse but if it is anything like riding an elephant bareback I never will.  We were taken down to and through the river with about 600 stops for foliage grabbing.  If I wasn't afraid of her trampling me, I definitely would have called Runtip a fatty.

Towards the end of the river we hopped off and washed her!  Buckets of water were thrown everywhere as a car wash brush helped turn her skin from brown to grey.  It was so much fun that I cannot describe, but I was quite happy that I had enough antibacterial wipes for my entire body at the end.

After a HUGE lunch of yellow curry, spring rolls, noodles, and anything else the kitchen could find (for just two of us), it was back to the bus for more adventure!

First there was the "trek" to the waterfall.  It took a lot of convincing, but I finally slid from the top to the bottom along with everyone else

Once we walked back down, it was off to white water rafting!  Since the rainy season had just begun, the rapids were not that intense.  Unfortunately this did not stop me from being the only one thrown out of the boat.  I can laugh about it now since my open wounds are almost all healed, but I may have been a bit scared at the time.  Once the white water rafting was done, bamboo floats were boarded to finish off the river.  I tried to Google image these guys but nothing captured the lameness of it.  We were all in the water up to our waist and barely floating down.  Getting out of the river and taking a shower (after the two hour car ride), felt fantastic. 

Post shower was a great time to blow my remaining budget on antiseptic cream before going to the three story rooftop bar for a few beers as I said goodbye to all the wonderful people I met in Chiang Mai.  I called it a fairly early night in preperation to begin Vietnam adventures the next day!

Tags: chiang mai, cooking class, elephants, white water rafting


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