Wednesday, March 24, 2010

CGNWWT Part 4: Chiang Mai, Thailand Part 2

Aside from the being a beautiful place filled with some of the kindest people I’ve encountered, Chiang Mai is also a haven for backpackers.  It was interesting walking around the city center and running into people from different countries exchanging stories and updating their statuses on their tiny little laptops (it turns out Apple does not reign supreme in the ultra-portable, tiny laptop category.  C’mon, Steve!  Ditch the unfortunately named iPad and get crackin’ on one of those teeny tiny little laptops!).

Thus, Chiang Mai is a great place to indulge yourself in a few shameless tourist attractions.  The most popular one is the elephant ride, which Jason and I got a chance to enjoy.  I, for one, am not a big zoo person, so I was a little skeptical about how much I’d enjoy an elephant ride.  However, the Maesa Elephant Camp was a great surprise in that it was really clean, the grounds were well kept and beautiful, and the elephant show wasn’t too hokey.  

An elephant gets a little friendly with Jason.
Elephants bathing
 The elephants also painted pictures, which were quite impressive.  For 1000 Baht, you can buy one of their pictures.
Denise knew that they'd ask for volunteers for this part of the show, so she volunteered Jason to compete against the elephants at throwing darts.  The elephant won, but with great sportsmanship, patted Jason on the head for a good effort.

It’s a bit a ways out of town, but it was a great experience, still.  Also, it is the home of the BEST CORN I’VE EVER CONSUMED.  So the corn was swimming in enough melted butter and condensed milk to throw Paula Deen into her long-overdue cardiac arrest.  But as far as corn goes, this corn put most corn to shame.  

We also wanted to take a Thai cooking class.  Our hosts, the Tang family, suggested the Thai Cookery School, which cost 900 Baht (about $25 USD) for each of us.  They offer a week-long series of classes, but we were only able to go to the introductory class, where we made Tom Yam Gong, Green Curry, Pad Thai, and a few other lesser-known dishes.  The whole experience was a lot of fun, and even though I would have liked the class to be a bit more hands-on, it was very informative and the food was pretty tasty (Jason’s too)!

Outdoor kitchen facilities at the Thai Cookery School.  The school itself is a 20-minute ride out of the city center, and has its own organic garden where they grow the herbs and vegetables we use in class.
We love basil, oh yes, we do!  We love basil!  How 'bout you?
Jason fries up some Thai fish cakes.
We met this sweet Japanese couple from Hokkaido who didn't speak a word of English.  They took the counters next to us and gave us postcards with pictures of Hokkaido and made us paper cranes.  So cute!

The Tangs graciously fed us and toted us around to various food courts for meals.  And being that we are a bit conservative in our spending, Jason and I mostly ate cheap, local food.  But we did decide to splurge on one nice meal at a restaurant just around the corner from the Tang’s house.  It was called Khaomao-Khaofang and it was quite possibly the coolest restaurant I’ve ever been to.  It was mostly an outdoor space with a huge tent covering to shield you from the sun.  Everywhere you looked, there were trees, flowers, and WATERFALLS!  Doesn't get much more paradise-like than that!

This was just a few steps from the table where we had lunch.  To our left, there were a few mini-waterfalls and flowers growing out of the trunks of trees.  Absolutely beautiful!

Denise (Mama Tang) told us to be sure to go to the bathroom because of its decorations.  I won’t go into too much detail, but I’m sure there are few places in the world to pee that are as aesthetically pleasing as these stalls. 
Sink-area in the Ladies' Room.
I never thought I'd be so emphatic about a bathroom stall, but this picture really doesn't do the toilet justice.
And speaking of Thai food, of course, we consumed just about everything we could get our hands on.  Everything… and I really mean EVERYTHING… was delicious in Chiang Mai.  I was grateful that we didn’t have any stomach issues during our trip, but it turns out that even the hole-in-the-walls are pretty clean in Chiang Mai.  Here are a few things we were lucky enough to try!
You can't leave Thailand without having a real Thai Iced Tea!
...or an ice-cold Tiger Beer... YUM!  For less than $1, I'd gladly trade in pyramids of PBR for a Tiger any day.
Hmm... so this ended up being a series of photos of Jason with various beverages.  This one tops the rest.  A fresh strawberry smoothie that cost 15 Baht (less than 50 cents) and would run Jamba Juice out of business in no time.
A bit different from your standard Ketchup and Mustard... Ketchup and Thai Chili Hot Sauce.
Rice noodles with tender beef chunks and meatballs... extra cilantro, please!  YUM!
Green curry with fried fish.  The little green pea-looking things are actually tiny eggplants.  Neither of us were huge fans (super bitter and not much flavor otherwise), but it was cool to see what "real" Thai curry is supposed to taste like.
 This white bowl of magic is a local Chiang Mai specialty called Khao Soy.  It's a noodle dish with cocnut milk and crispy noodles on top.  It's served with this next dish...
Pickled cabbage, freshly sliced shallots, and a wedge of lime.  It was wonderful being surrounded by limes, again, since they're almost impossible to find in Beijing.  The lime and picked cabbage are the perfect taste of sour tartness to cut through the creamy coconut milk in the Khao Soy.
Oh, Chiang Mai... you sure know the way into a girl's heart.  Crispy breaded pork over Thai rice.  Jason and I split this dish and the Khao Soy at a tiny little hole-in-the-wall for lunch.  Everything cost us 50 Baht... about $1.25 USD!

There was so much more than we had that I forgot to take pictures of because, frankly, I was too busy eating.  Papaya salad, other curries, noodles, and some of the best coffee I've ever consumed.  I really can't say enough about how enamored I am with Chiang Mai.  My mom was joking that I probably loved it so much because the food was good.  She has a great point, but I can't stress enough how great the entire experience was because of the people.  Everything from the tourist activities to just chatting with the guy selling cut fruit on the street was such a blessed experience.  I've said it before, but I'll say it again...

I can't wait to go back!

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