Full disclosure– my sister’s-friend-turned-my-new-friend, Clayton, wrote the Thai word after “farang”, which almost like the equivalent to calling someone a gringo/a. Clayton has been really generous with his time, showing me around Chiang Mai and speaking impressive Thai to order us delicious food or explain things in markets. Shoutout to you, Clayton, you’ve been a champ!
One of my favorite things, right off the bat, is the little hoses right next to the toilets that you can use after using the potty. It’s refreshing after walking around in the hot sun, and it feels less wasteful than all that toilet paper. I would move to bring this to Chicago, but I could see this getting unpleasant in the winter months…
Other than the potties, temples and food have defined my walking experience in Chiang Mai. Up the mountain, around the corner, down the alley, there is another Wat, or Buddhist temple, gleaming against monks’ orange robes. I have removed my shoes and sat on my heels, staring at giant Buddhas at upwards of 10 different Wats. They are all remarkably beautiful, detailed stories in building form.
As for FOOD… well, my tastebuds have been rocked. The first day I had orange Thai iced tea at one shop, spicy papaya salad (seriously so spicy that I could only eat a few bites– lesson learned that “medium” is actually a Hannah HOT) for lunch, a sampler of northern Thai dishes with sticky rice at dinner, and a regular ol’ Chang beer at the Cabaret show (I would equate it, probably inaccurately given the different gender identities in Thailand, to a Thai drag show. You might have seen an example on Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown with the episode showcasing Chiang Mai).
My second day, I went to cooking school with the best teacher, Yui at A Lot of Thai cooking school, who has been invited to cook in countries all over the world and has pictures in her home with Gordon Ramsey! It was a day of making and eating Pad Thai, Penang Curry, Tom yum soup with prawns (left to right in the photos below), and mango sticky rice (and yes, family and friends, I will try and replicate what I learned for your taste buds too). I was entirely too full by the end of class, but my mouth and belly were also entirely too satisfied.
The next day, I scoped out a spot known by locals for excellent Khao Soi, essentially the dish of Northern Thailand. I went to a spot called Khaosoi Maesai and spooned away at this beauty until the bottom of the bowl was visible:
I ordered Khao soi gai, which was this soup with chicken. Thailand has been an unashamed reinsertion to intentionally eating meat at meals. The environmentalist in me would urge me to avoid meat consumption, but the sustainable traveler in me, eager to experience all aspects of Thai culture, recognizes meat as a fundamental part of enjoying Thai cuisine. I’m all in.
Beyond food, which I could probably talk about for endless paragraphs, I went on a jungle trek with Pooh Eco-Trekking, known for more responsible travel than other companies. On our day-long trek, it was just me and a kind French couple away from their small children for the first time. We hiked to two waterfalls, deftly donning and removing our rain ponchos with frequency as the weather decided to keep our feet wet. Also, there are TRAIL LEECHES. I just can’t talk about them, but they are pretty gross green-ish equivalents of the black-slimy buggers I knew from camp growing up. I pulled 3 or more off during the hike (actually, I had someone else do it, I couldn’t handle it).
BUT, despite the leeches, we had mango sticky rice for a snack, which was brilliant. Also, because everything is wrapped in banana leaves, there is no need for plastic containers/plates, and everything is entirely biodegradable. We ate our snacks and left the leaves for the jungle to use as organic matter later.
The above picture shows 1/2 of the French couple and our lunch! Veggie rice with a fried egg and chicken. Not pictured are the tomatoes and cucumber and fresh pineapple. Our guide really did well for us in the market, and I think I left the hike more full than if I hadn’t done any exercise that day.
To prepare for the Superior Hiking Trail, which my friend Anne and I will hike two weeks after I get back, I’ve been trying to figure out how to keep strong while traveling. Today, I ran to this gem of a park with great exercise equipment around the perimeter (see one example below). If I sweat twice as much in subtropical air, does it count twice as much?
Next week, I start my Thai massage course! I am eager to have a routine, at least for a week, and drink more Thai iced teas, eat mango sticky rice, and try a less-spicy papaya salad.