Oh my Chiang Mai

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December 8th 2014
Published: December 8th 2014
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Oh My Chiang Mai

Oh, Bangkok Airways, how do I love thee. We flew Bangkok Airways our whole Thailand trip, and each flight was about $50 a person. Busses and trains would have been $10-30, but the extra time afforded was really worth it. We had free checked luggage, an a/c lounge with free wifi and snacks. I engorged on these sweet sticky rice logs rolled around black beans and stuffed in banana leaves at every stop. Do it. Do it.

So all was easy to Chiang Mai. We arrive and we instantly love it. There's something to be said about the visceral reaction you have to a new place - often indescribably you like or dislike a place in your gut just at disembarkment. The city has a quaint charm about it, and is about 5 degrees cooler, a relief from the Bangkok heat, though still warm. We arrive at the Top Garden Boutique Inn, and I'm a little nervous about what we are walking into because it was really cheap. Well, luck would have it, it's beautiful. Open and airy and clean, and our room is spacious with a fan and small shower. For $10/ night. We decide to walk around a bit to explore.

Th city is a bit like Siem Reap as it is bordered by a canal system. Our hotel is tucked away on a series of side streets and can be a bit confusing, our hotel owner is French Canadian with a Thai wife, and they give us their phone number to call at any time if our tuk tuk gets lost. We find our way to the city center, which is muuuuuch quieter than Bangkok. You don't fear for your life at every street crossing, and here are no high rises or a metropolis. Evidence of tourism is present, with signs for the "Elvis cafe", "Alabama BBQ", and "burritos". There are even a few DIY froyo places and wine bars. But the city maintains is boho charm, and we get to walking and we see the majority of the city on foot. We see about 10 temples in total... And we then make a pact that we are templed out. Some are great, but one can only see so many temples. We grab a fruit shake and set out to find some Koi Soi, the quintessential northern Thai dish.

Side note about the fruit shakes: in every city in Thailand, and usually Cambodia and Vietnam as well, there are roadside stalls selling fruit shakes. All are made a bit differently, most with fruit, ice, milk and sugar, but I always request just fruit and ice. They say you aren't supposed to eat the ice, but I did at every stall and I never got sick.

They sell everything you could imagine, but I personally had passion fruit, pineapple, red dragon fruit, banana, mango, sopradillo, and coconut drinks. They are all perfection because the fruit is so sweet and fresh. The sopradillo one was a bit strange... It takes like a starchy prune. But worth the experiment.

Stalls also sell coconuts, and the vendors hack off the top and give you a straw. The younger the coconut, the more juice it holds, and the meat inside is more of a jelly or a tapioca. I prefer the just older than young coconuts, so they are still full of water but the meat is white and solid. Be a pro and ask them to hack it in half after you finish the juice and then scrape the meat out. It's the absolute perfect snack on a hot day.

We find a street vender food stall, and figure this is our best bet for some authentic Koi Soi. Koi Soi is a egg noodle dish in a hearty chicken broth (almost like a dark curry) with aromatics. The noodles are often both fresh and fried, and a chicken drumstick floats in the middle. The combination of flavors and textures is really nice, but I personally prefer more acid and sourness in my Thai food. But it is yummy and satisfying and sticks to your ribs.

We head back to the hotel to relax and shower. We each have a big Chang beer and then our old crew from Bangkok picks us up in a tuk tuk. We head to the night bazaar close to our hotel. It's another market, which also has massages, Thai lady boys wearing ball gowns, street performers, and food. The rest of the crew is starving so we go to a British pub (beyond me why) so they eat bad fish and chips while Cam and I drink some pitchers and try to avoid the drunk American man that keeps trying to talk to us. The best thing is the DVD in the background playing 80 s music videos such as The Hustle and Grease.

The girls take off to do some shopping and go to the fish spa (a spa where you put your feet into an aquarium and fish eat the dead skin off of them. I pass. Just seems not okay). The boys and I go bar hopping and have some drinks and listen to bad music. Cam and I leave the boys to a night out which I'm pretty sure included some Thai women, and head back. On our way, we walk past an arena in a covered market, and hear cheers. We stop to see the commotion, and see it is a boxing arena. We aren't supposed to be able to see in, but we are tall (by Thai standards) and one of the drapes has fallen down. We peek over the top and see two-on-two Muay Thai boxing. The thing is...the men are all blindfolded. It is the strangest most comedic showing, but the men seem to be taking it seriously. We are eventually caught and get shooed away.

The next morning we have breakfast at the Cat House, a granola vibe with good breakfasts that caters to vegetarians. Cam wakes up earlier than me, I slept hard and just couldn't pick my head off the pillow it was so heavy with sleep. We then catch our prearranged taxi to Doi Suthep, a famous temple on a mountain top about 15km out of the city. We had considered doing a trip to the national park, but it just got too complicated. Our cab driver speaks some version of English but he is very nice. The drive is pleasant and brings us through winding hills. Our driver tells us that once a year there is a night where thousands of people walk from the city to the temple as a Buddhist celebration. We arrive to a street packed with vendors and tourist buses. We climb the 200 or so steps to the top, pay the entrance fee, and I'm pretty sure at the same time we both think, "Really?". The temple is - eh. The views are - eh. So many tourists and nothing really to see. My favorite part was a beautiful flower garden around a small temple, and as I was shooting pictures I realized all the flowers were fake. That was the last straw and we headed out. My favorite part of the whole experience was the coconut pancakes I had at the bottom, they look like mini pancakes on the outside but they are oozy and gooey in the middle. We wait for our cab and decide to head back. I think the driver can sense our dejection, and asks if we want to see another temple on our way back. We kindly decline, nut he insists it's special and says. "No charge, I no charge." In the end, we are very happy we did, because it turned out to be awesome. We were really the only ones there. It was a Buddhist temple and monastery built into a forest with a streaming river and waterfall. Monks donned in orange were painting pictures on the river bed and we explored the natural surroundings. Best part of the day bar none, and saved the trip. We graciously thank our cabbie and head back.

That night we head to the riverfront to meet up with one of Cameron's father's friends for dinner. The man, Patrick, is Irish, and he married a Thai woman, and has lived in Chiang Mai for 8 or so years. That's all we know. When we head to the riverfront, I see this is where the other half lives. It is beautiful with twinkling lights, with a stream of posh riverfront restaurants. We meet them at the bar, and Patricks wife, Meow, is a pretty thing who looks about 20. She's 43. Turns out the owner of the restaurant is from San Diego and is their friend. They order up a storm and we have some very nice dishes which are beautifully presented. However, honestly, the street food we've been eating is better in flavor, and about a tenth of the price. But the wine is delicious. It's been months since I've drank wine not out of a box.

They are great company, and dinner is slow and full of stories. They met in Bangkok when Meow was 16 and Patrick was probably late 30s early 40s and he spoke no Thai and she spoke no English. I can only assume there is a lot more to that story, but they have been together ever since. They have two daughters who live with them in a beautiful house just outside of Chiang Mai. Mysterious ways of the world.

We call it a night and have a peaceful morning before we catch our flight to Krabi town via Bangkok to start our island hopping.


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