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Published: July 15th 2010
After just a day in Chiang Mai we were so in love with the laid back atmosphere of this town that we booked ourselves a whole week here. Thanks to Jacqui's recommendation we have been staying in a fantastic hotel: private twin room, crisp white linen, airconditioning, buffet breakfast, 25m pool, sun loungers, free wifi, beautiful gardens all for £4 a night! Paradise is not without its troubles though; it would seem the gods think we have had too much of a good thing and so for our last two days they have cursed the pool, turning it a slurry brown and installing a grumbling, slurping machine to suck at the murky waters.
This is not a good thing for a girl intent on eating her way through the menu of every restaurant, cafe and street stall in Chiang Mai. I was relying on 30+ lengths a day as a token gesture towards getting fit while I was here. We did try yoga instead a couple of mornings but it felt like doing that Bikram hot sauna yoga with the sun beating down on us and turning us to melting messes at 8am. We've also tried walking into town and
back for exercise but we keep getting distracted by all the shops and stalls selling pretty, glittering objects that called out to us begging to be bought (not dodgy Thai girls I hasten to add but jewellery, handbags, clothes etc) and then had to splash out 20 pence a person for a tuk tuk to cart us and our purchases home.
As is so often the focus in my life, the theme of Chiang Mai and this blog is food and shopping. It goes without saying that we have had a fantastic time here!
Within two days we had a perfect routine and all our favourite local establishments to patronize. As is always the case when breakfast is included in the price of the hotel, we attack the buffet with gusto to ensure we can get through the morning without spending money. In preparation for more exotic locations with less westernised breakfast selections, I have been mixing up my cereal and fried egg sandwiches with sweet and sour vegetables and chicken fried rice to acclimatise my stomach to more unusual early morning meals.
Following breakfast we usually retire to the pool for reading and snoozing, interspersed with
The cake fridge at Love at First Bite...
...how is a girl to decide which one to pick?!
the odd energetic bout of swimming to cool down and build up an appetite for afternoon tea. A twenty minute gentle walk from our hotel we have found the best cakes this side of The Savoy and my Mum's kitchen! My current favourite cafe in the World is called 'Love at First Bite' and has a beautiful garden terrace and endless shelves heaving with the most ginormous, gorgeous, drool-inducing cakes you can imagine. By our third visit the waiters had our favourite table ready and waiting for us and hovered politely as we spent an obligatory ten minutes salivating over the menu and weighing up the calorific pros and cons of chocolate brownie sundaes versus coconut cream pie or cheese quiche. While the brownie sundae won over Hannah and Jacqui instantly, I am a more fickle cake lover and over the course of a week I have sampled: deliciously juicy mango cheesecake, a delightfully tangy lemon slice, a mountain of lemon meringue pie, fruit-bejewelled Hawaiian cheesecake, plus award winning (if it isn't already it should be) homemade vanilla flavour and indulgently alcoholic rum and raisin ice creams.
On the verge of sugar comas we stagger back to our hotel
for another couple of hours snoozing and swimming before heading into town for the daily Night Market. Lining a thoroughfare several blocks long and spreading out down side streets, spilling into squares and crowding into malls are thousands of stalls selling everything your average backpacker could ever need, want, or have never even thought of. From t-shirts with beer logos to intricately carved soap flowers, friendship bracelets and cheap metal bangles, thin cotton pants guaranteed to not flatter any figure, fake chanel makeup and beautifully embroidered bed linen.
The wonderful thing about Thai markets that struck me straight away is the lack of hassle. Having cut my teeth in the harsh world of African souvenir buying the Chiang Mai Night Market is such a pleasure. I can actually pause at a stall or walk on past at my discretion. I can look directly at objects rather than sneaking peaks out of the corner of my eye hoping that the stall holder won't notice and leap at the chance of a sale. I can even pick up
something that has caught my eye and enquire the price without being thrown into a whirlwind of bargaining and counter-bargaining that will leave
me with three sets of something I don't even want. It's brilliant, I still get the fun of bargaining and interacting with locals without being constantly harangued and blackmailed into visiting every single stall in the market. I think I may have learnt bargaining in Africa a bit too well though, I nearly drew tears from a couple of stallholders with my determination to save a few baht.
All that shopping means that we have worked up an appetite again so next stop is the Yellow Tables, an area in the market with lots of food stalls. Once again the decision making is accompanied by much salivating and wide eyed gazes at menus offering delicious concoctions of noodles and fried rice, Thai curries and Indian curries, fruit shakes and fishcakes. Having dined like a queen for a pound it is then time to search out the perfect sweet treat to round off the meal and empty my purse of a few more baht. Mounds of ice cream are particularly tempting but I have also been enticed by the rotee - pancakes with honey and banana, or any other combination of fillings that takes your fancy from chocolate sauce to
sweetcorn and egg.
Full to bursting our perfect Chiang Mai day is almost complete. All that's left is to say hello to the friendly barman at the Red Lion pub and he presents us (without asking, he learnt our order very quickly!) with two lager shandies and the next Thai beer on the menu that I have yet to try. Refreshed, gossiped out and content with our latest purchases we hail a tuk tuk, argue over 20p, and putter home to our cool, comfortable beds.
That basically sums up what we have done every day for the past week, with the following minor variations.
1. Sunday may be the day of rest in some countries, in Chiang Mai it's Sunday Walking Market time, an excuse to shop just up the road for a change of scenery and more street food options. Here we feasted on delicious spring rolls smothered in sweet chilli sauce, doughnuts dusted liberally in sugar, fruit shakes bursting with brightly coloured vitamin goodness, and famous Chiang Mai sausages that tasted as exciting as microwaved Walls bangers.
2. Getting on the other side of the gas flames and learning to cook Thai food as
well as shovelling it in our mouths all day. We did an excellent half day course on Saturday afternoon with Asia Scenic Cookery School. Our brilliant teacher, Maam, took us to the local food market to buy fresh noodles and coconut milk and then showed us how to make pad thai and sweet and sour chicken, how to pound our own curry pastes and turn them into delicious curries in minutes, and how to create fragrant soups from key fresh Thai ingredients. It was an enormous success and everything we made tasted even better than the stuff we've been buying at food stalls!
3. We're already ladies that lunch, it was only one more step to becoming ladies that go for pampering sessions. At £3 a go, who can resist half an hour of muscle pummelling or a pedicure to tidy up flip flop battered feet...certainly not us!
4. Wat spotting. Chiang Mai apparently has about 300 Wats (temples). We've probably been in 3. But that was enough to get an idea of just how ornate they can be. My particular favourite was Wat Bupparam, a temple obviously dedicated to all the animals of our world as there
were statues of elephants, giraffes, squirrels, snakes, and bizarrely Donald Duck, dotted around the gardens at the base of the temple.
5. Flower market - in an attempt to browse for something other than food and souvenirs we strolled along the road lined with flower stalls one afternoon taking in the heady perfume and brilliant colours of hundreds of bouquets of exotic flowers. Once again I was relieved that no one tried the hard sell on us, unlike the flower vendor in Nairobi who insisted we would be able to take his flowers on our plane home!
So that's been our week in Chiang Mai. Fully rested and refuelled we are now ready to embark on more adventures and explorations. Following one final pit stop at the market later for essential snack supplies, we will be boarding the overnight train to Bangkok and then hopefully heading east into Cambodia and Vietnam in the next couple of weeks.
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