Chiang Mine

28 10 2008

Chiang Mai, Thailand

We have arrived! So back when we had this crazy idea to run off across the ocean, the original goal was to shack up in Chiang Mai, Thailand and ride out the good life there. Of course two months after we put this plan into action, Thailand changed their visa laws so that you can only be in the country for 90 out of 180 days. So yeah, the plan changed just a tad, however we still had the goal of enjoying Chiang Mai. So now we’re here and the city is everything I thought it would be and more. Mainly, it’s very different from the rest of Thailand. First of all, it’s Thailand’s most diverse city, filled with both Eastern and Western races of every shape and kind. While it’s still Thailand (i.e. dizzyingly different) Chiang Mai is different because of all the Western business owners who strive to bring a little chunk of their home country to the city. Basically it’s like walking through NYC and going through all of the ethnic neighborhoods within 20 blocks. What this also means is that we get many of the comforts of home that we’ve missed like burritos, nachos, pizza, Tabasco, bagels, cookies, etc. In other words, it’s an oasis for those expats who need a little break from reality, but aren’t ready to go home.

Nachos from El Diablo's Burritos

Nachos from El Diablo

Since this is such a tourist mecca, it’s pretty popular for the tuk tuk drivers to attempt to sell themselves as tour guides. If you want to see the sights, this is a pretty cheap and easy way of doing so. We contracted a cool little guy by the name of Udom who charged us so little that we paid him double what he asked. He took us to all of the big Wats in the center city and explained their origins, why they were important, philosophies of Buddhism, and how to do all of that lighting-candles-and-incense-for-blessings business (fyi, carve names into the candle who you want to be blessed, light the candle, put the candle on the stick, light the incense with the candle, stick it in the sand, put some flowers on the plate, and bada bing, you got yourself a blessing). We also went to a handicrafts market where they make tons of silver jewlery and silk carpets. This guy gave us this impressive presentation on what it takes to make one of these handknotted carpets, where each and every strand is hand tied and then hand sheared by carpet makers who have at least 40 years of experience (and probably the arthritis to prove it), and then after telling me it takes all this experience plus 19 months to maket this carpet, he puts one on the floor and tells me to walk on it. I felt more like sealing it in an airtight container and keeping bright lights off of it’s surface. He also made a big push to sell the thing to us (for an admittedly great price) even after telling him that we have no home. I laughed as I had visions of moving into a brand new apartment with no furniture, hardly any clothes, a bag of toiletries, and a silk carpet made in Thailand.

Before we left the states, we would often tell friends of our goal to make it to Chiang Mai and they would always ask what we plan to do there. One of the first goals was to have a Thai iced tea every day. As any blood sugar test can verify, we’re succeeding in that goal. The second goal was to indulge ourselves in Thai massages. You can get a massage on literally every street in Chiang Mai. Often times there will be three massage clinics lined up next to each other. It’s that popular. So how do you choose? Well I decided to be altruistic about it (because that’s just the kinda gal I am) and get a massage for a good cause. There are three ways of doing that in Thailand: get a massage from one of the blind masseuse schools, get a massage at the disabled center to support the handicapped, or get a massage at the women’s prison. I chose the latter because it was farther away from the tourist trail, and therefore probably gets less action, and it helps these women learn a trade so that they have employable skills once they are released. And no, we were not being rubbed down by murders here. Most of these women have been caught for theft or tax evasion due to poverty. Going to them also helps them earn some money so that they aren’t released with nothing. The women’s prison also has crafts for sale made by the prisoners and a cafe where the prisoners learn about cooking and running a restaurant. But the best reason to go to the women’s prison is that they are literaly thrilled that you’re there. They wash you’re feet, give you some loose clothes to change into, take you from the changing room over to a mat, give you some delicious tea, and then begin to poke and pry your limbs for an hour until you resemble a Raggedy Ann doll. All for 180 baht or $5.50.

The second goal was to send Gage to a cooking school, or as I like to think of it, husband training. Of the dozens of courses available in Chiang Mai, he chose the Thai Farm Cooking School because it was out in a rural part of the city that he wouldn’t see otherwise, and it takes place on an organic farm, which is something we foodies support. They picked him up at 8:15 with a few others and then drove to a local market where the teacher, Nice, pointed out the typical ingredient and how to differentiate between all of the rices, sauces, and sugars available. Afterwards they drove to the farm where they did a quick tour and sampling of the fresh produce grown there. Then it was down to the pounding, grinding, stiring and frying. There isn’t a lot of theory taught here, you pick 5 dishes that you want to prepare from a list and then you learn to prepare these items. Afterwards you and your new friends attempt to eat the copious amounts of food that you just made, ultimately failing and bringing the last few dishes home to eat later. This was obviously my favorite part of Gage’s course, since one of the dishes he was too full to finish was mangos and sticky rice, my new obsession. Why I ever have to eat anything besides mangos and sticky rice for every meal is something that eludes me. How I can eat mangos and sticky rice every day and sometimes three times a day without getting sick of it is what eludes Gage.

One of our last big goals for Chiang Mai was to do a mediation retreat. Gage and I had both taken meditation courses back in college and I had been practicing different kinds of meditation since I became involved in martial arts. Vipassana meditation, the practice of mindfulness, is difficult, but we understand and appreciate its benefits. When I stumbled upon a website for the Northern Insight Meditation Center more than a year ago, I instantly wanted to go. The retreat is long and a large percentage of people don’t make it through, so Gage and I are nervous to say the least, but in the end, this trip is all about trying those things that are daunting and different. So please excuse our blog silence for a bit, send some encouraging vibes our way, and look out for the next blog entry because no matter what happens, it’s gonna be interesting.

For more pictures from Chiang Mai, click here.

Chiang Mai Suggestions:
– Don’t forget to tip your massuse, especially if you go to one of the places listed above. When we went to the women’s prison we gave a tip of 20 baht to each girl. 10% is probably the norm, but these girls deserved extra.

– We’ve had a great stay at the CM Blue House, which is owned by a great couple from Hawaii. They have nice clean rooms and free wi-fi. If their full up, check out the Rama House, which they also own. I haven’t been there yet, but if Tim and Tony run it, I know it will be good.

– The nachos pictured above are from El Diablo’s Burritos on the corner of Chang Moi and Chaiyapoom. Their food is fresh and delicious, they have free chips and salsa, and the owner is a really great guy. Highly recommended.

– Another source of excellent fresh food is Little Tibet on Soi 6 just down from Moon Muang. Be patient, the lady there makes everything from scratch, including a lot of Tibetan traditional foods. She also makes a killer musli, yogurt and fruit bowl for only 45 baht.

– The best crispy banana pancake chef in the world is on Moon Muang between Soi 6 and 7 right in front of the 7-11. He’s generous with the ingredients, friendly, and an artist in his craft. It’s worth a lot more than the 15 baht he charges.

– Chiang Mai coffee is a great little coffee shop that is quiet, plays excellent jazz and crooner music, and has free wifi. You can find it behind DK Books on Kotchasaran Rd.

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2 responses

28 10 2008
Norris Hall

If you like Thai cooking try this site
http://www.thaifoodtonight.com
It’s got about 30 recipes each one with a cooking video to go along.

29 10 2008
Kathy

Sure going to miss your posts. 😦 But – can’t wait to hear all about your experience at the meditation center. I know it will be beyond interesting!!!

Love, Kathy

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