On my way to Pai, Thailand

The town of Pai

On my last full day in Chiang Mai, Thailand I take it easy. I visit a very clean laundromat down the street to get some laundry done. Then I mostly chill out in my room catching up on shows and people back home.

The next day I have a bus reservation to go to Pai – a hippie-like city a couple hours north of Chiang Mai. It isn’t popular for regular tourists visiting Thailand but is very popular with backpackers for its chill atmosphere. There are waterfalls and canyons to hike so being intrigued I decide to spend a couple days there.

Before my bus trip I get up early to get some coffee and finally try the doughnuts around the block that seem to be so popular at MOOH. I get the enthusiasm. I am not a huge doughnut fan but these are really good.

I gather my things at the hotel and take an uber to the bus station. After I check in at the bus company I get a hand written boarding pass of sorts and find my van. My bag is placed on top and I am told my assigned seat is in the very back. Unfortunately I am unable to choose my seat ahead of time online so the back is randomly assigned. I dread the ride. I don’t think I have motion sickness medicine on me. This ride will not be fun.

Turns out I am correct. The ride is horribly curvy. I am so nauseous. We stop half way for a bathroom break and I find a soda that might settle my stomach for the rest of the ride.

We finally arrive in Pai and it is pouring raining. More prepared backpackers have a special rain cover for their backpack. I only have my rain jacket and poncho to use. But because it is raining too hard and I need my maps.me on my phone to navigate I wait for the rain to die down before heading out. The small bus area is packed and there is only a little overhang to cover all of us who have just arrived. But somehow we all shove under the area. There are taxis but my lodging is too close that I can’t justify the ride. I assume others have the same idea. Once the rain subsides I start my walk down to my lodging which is a bit of a splurge that I gave myself with credit card points.

Typical street in Pai

I arrive at my villa and it is adorable. I have a private villa and it is very homey.

Pai Village Boutique Resort

After I settle in I head out because it is the night of the walking streets in town. It is still early but I am not one for late nights so I head down there.

I buy a couple food items and browse a bit at items for sale. What I really want to do is chill with a cocktail. The first place I find is a very quiet wine bar.

I find a seat outside and have a glass of wine. The bar tender is very friendly and the music isn’t bad. But because it is so quiet I decide to only have the one drink and walk around some more. I eventually walk down to this waterfront restaurant closer to my hotel. It is still very quiet but I decide to get a cocktail here as well before I head in for the night.

After my cocktail I head back. As I head back I hear the street music get louder. A young Aussie working one of the clubs tries to entice me to come in. He is either humoring me or he has no idea how old I really am. Anyway, it isn’t happening tonight. Bed early!!!

Chiang Mai: Thai cooking class

Making sticky rice

One of the things I really wanted to do while in south east Asia is to attend a cooking class. The city of Chiang Mai in Thailand has numerous cooking classes to choose from. One blog I read prior to my trip heavily recommended Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School and after reading reviews I decided it was a good choice for me as well. At Asia Scenic you can choose from a half day or full day program and also have a class in the city or out on their farm.

I chose to do a full day class out on their farm.

Fortunately, like the elephant park tour, a van picks me up at my hotel.

We stop first at kitchen in town for them to collect payment and to wait for those who will be joining us for the farm class.

Kitchen in city

After our entire group arrives and payments are settled we take a van to go shopping at the market. We are given a tour and introduced different market foods.

Market

After the market we arrive at the farm. We are given an apron and a fun hat to wear. We choose which we want to cook and then are given a tour of the farm while the kitchen makes sure we have the supplies we need.

After the tour it is to the kitchen where we are given a snack. We are given instructions on how to eat the snack wrapped in a leaf. Called Meang Kana it can be vegetarian or made with pork crackling. It is an interesting set of ingredients (lime, chili, onion, cashew nut, roasted shredded coconut, ginger, sauce) but they go well together.

Next it is on to prep our first dish – Mine is Cashew Chicken.

Our instructor gives us easy to follow instructions and is able to help all of us even though we have not all chosen the same dish to start with.

We learn the importance of certain ingredients, especially fish sauce and soy sauce. If your dish isn’t balanced quite the way you want then these tools come in handy to modify your flavor as needed.

For our next dish we make spring rolls. This is a group effort. The filling is made by one or two in the group but we each learn how to roll our own spring roll. After rolled it is deep fried.

Next up I choose the glass noddle salad to make. It isn’t too complicated and tastes great.

We eat as we finish cooking each dish so you can imagine we are getting tired and full right now. We take a “lunch” break to rest and lounge around the farm.

The grounds are very relaxing with pillows, lounge chairs and some sturdy hammocks.

In no time at all it is time to go back to work.

We start with the curries. I love Massaman curry so that is which one I choose. I am the only one in our group who chooses to make this curry. I am pleased to discovered that making Massaman curry is slightly more complex than the others. Also the spices are a little more varied and exotic. I need to roast the spices before I start making the curry paste with mortal and pestle.

Of course I am taking too long so I get some professional assistance.

Everyone’s handmade curries.

We use the paste to make our curry dishes. The amount you add to the coconut milk makes the flavor vary.

I am reminded of what a slow cooker I am when my curry takes forever to cook down. I never quite have the temperature at that sweet spot.

We also make a soup. I make a prawn lemongrass soup.

My curry and my soup

Finally, we as a group make the sticky mango rice. It is made with pandan leaves (for flavor) and butterfly pea flowers (flavor and color). It is fun to watch it turn into the amazing dessert. I enjoy the dessert with a glass of butterfly pea tea.

At the end we get a cookbook with all the recipes and some great descriptions of common thai ingredients.

It is an amazing day of delicious food that was worth every penny of the cost.

Chiang Mai Temples Day 2

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Today I am traveling up to Doi Suthep Mountain to visit the big temple up there.

I heard there are some great nature trails and other places to visit on the mountain but I didn’t schedule my time wisely and missed out on most of that in favor of some downtime (self-care).

I think I am heading up there.

A songthaew needed and I hire one for the trip. Instead of hiring one of the ones down the street I flag one down on another street and negotiate a price with him.

He takes me on the long curvy trip up the mountain. The back is open so I have a great view to see the trip behind me.

Look, another red truck.

We stop on the way up for the view of Chiang Mai below.

When we arrive at the top my driver tells me he will wait for me. As you can see there are many red trucks waiting. He gives me his card and I take a picture of his license just in case I can’t find him.

I climb the first set of stairs where there are a couple of statues.

As you can see, pretty foggy (smoggy) up here.

After the initial climb you will find another set of stairs, this one much longer.

A good number of stairs to get to the temple

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

I pay the admission and I have to remove my shoes to enter the temple complex. The whole complex is very busy as most places I have visited in south east Asia. It is crowded with people who come to pray and other tourists like myself. I try to avoid as many humans as possible to get unobstructed photos but it is difficult. Even when no tourists are in my photos, a photography sales person will walk right into my frame trying to sell me their version of the photos. It is quite frustrating.

I do get a moment of peace when I walk into this temple, kneel down before the monk and receive a blessing. It is quite nice how accepting they are of visitors.

Holy water splashed on me and received a blessing here

Once I leave the temple complex I walk around and there is a terrace that has a nice view.

Some fun looking tree

I climb back down the stairs to find my driver. I have him drop me off near another temple in town that is close enough that I can walk back later on my own.

Before moving on I stop for a great lunch at Chef Tao’s Thai Cuisine.

After lunch I walk down the street for one more temple for the day.

Wat Chiang Man

Wat Chiang Man is not crowded at all. I can leisurely walk around and check out the interesting Buddhist scenes depicted in the temple.

After the temple visit I wander through town. I happen to walk by a cat cafe which I must stop in.

Cat Brothers Cafe

Picked up some kitty food and a mango smoothie

Shoes need to be off before you visit the cats upstairs and you are required to sanitize your hands before entering.

Once I entered the staff member helped me with some plates and soon I had many best friends. None of the kitties looked like they were starving but they sure acted like it.

It was cute to watch all the chubby kitties eat. Once I ran out of kibbles though they were off to the next person who had food for them.

I sat around and finished my beverage and watched the kitties a bit before I decided to head back down Nimman. Later that evening I try some Pad Thai from the famous Pad Thai Mustache Style.

Luckily I am there early and there is not a long wait for my food. I pick up some good hipster pad thai to end my very good day.

Elephant Nature Park

One popular thing to do while in Thailand is to visit one of their many elephant rescue parks. The organizations differ to many degrees while some allow riding and close interaction and others are more strict with the interaction between the elephants and human visitors. While I have never been a fan of using animals for entertainment, I certainly have been less tolerant of using animals for pleasure as the years go by. In the times I don’t follow my instincts in this regard I end up feeling extremely guilty and don’t enjoy the experience (example – “humane” elephant ride in India many years ago, and recent camel ride in Egypt recommended as a “humane” operator by my tour company – both experiences had me feeling extremely guilty). I vow to never use an animal in that way again. With that in mind I chose to visit a park that limited the interaction with the elephants. After some research Elephant Nature Park seemed to be a good match for me. I booked one of their full day experiences.

We did get an opportunity to feed the elephants and do a quick touch to feel their skin but that was about it for guest to elephant interaction

The day starts early morning where they pick you up from your hotel in Chiang Mai. On the way you watch videos about the park. When you arrive you are instructed on applying sunscreen and bug spray in a designated area in order to not harm the animals.

First we feed the elephants a snack. The elephants can eat 150-300 kg of food a day. We learn how much it costs to feed the herd and why it is so important to have financial support of donations and visitors like me.

We feed the elephants from the bottom floor of the observation area. The area allows us to observe but not bother the elephants. Many of the elephants are rescues that are being rehabilitated from a life of work, entertainment or some even injured from conflict. We also learn about the founder Lek Saengduean Chailert.

They soon take us around to another area where we are able to give some elephants so snacks again. We learn more about elephants and how they like hanging out with their small family of elephants and hate horses and dogs (but you will find dogs that will hang out with the Mahouts).

We also learn about the life of a Mahout (elephant guide) and how as a woman you cannot become one. Sometimes it is a matter of finding the perfect match between mahout and the elephant.

The park is also a facility that rescues and rehabilitates other animals.

We learn about the different kind volunteers and how they stay on site for intervals. It definitely seems like an enriching opportunity.

Poor little guy with an injured foot.

Next it is time for bath time where elephants are responsible for bathing themselves with the exception of a mahout helping out a blind elephant.

Statement from the Elephant Nature Park website – “From 16 April 2018 the elephants will bathe themselves with no visitor interaction. This is part of the next phase of Elephant Nature Park to offer elephants a chance to live as natural a life as possible.”

After a busy morning we are treated to a delicious vegan lunch buffet and some relaxation time.

I spend my downtime visiting the rescue kitties. Some are free to roam and others live in the Cat Kingdom.

After lunch we head back out.

We get to watch more bathing elephants; many bathe with their small herd group and many include a baby elephant they nurture. It is nice to quietly watch the elephants play in the water.

And it is time for more food. It takes lots of food to maintain that physique.

As the elephants snack we get more back stories of the elephants in the facilities. Some are very old. From what I can see they are very lucky they get to spend their remaining days in this park.

Our visit is soon to be over. I visit the gift shop to buy a souvenir t-shirt and find the employees to be pretty lazy (see below).

My van arrives shortly to drive us back to our hotels. The day is money well spent.

Chiang Mai Temples Day 1

Wat Phra Singh

On my first full day in Chiang Mai I decided to go visit some of the temples in town. Some are in walking distance to my hotel but others are a bit further.

The key is to hire a songthaew or red pickup truck for the day to take you around or to catch it like a taxi around town. I didn’t have the confidence yet to negotiate a rate so I decided to go with a grab car instead (south east asia version of uber/lyft).

songthaew or red pickup truck at end of my street

Wat Umong Suan Phutthatham

My first stop is the Wat Umong Suan Phutthatham temple, a buddhist temple known for its monks and tunnels.

The temple is fun to walk around inside with all its little alcoves. Also on the grounds you can find signs with inspirational phrases. Finally on the grounds is a meditation pond with lots of birds. You can hear so many birds in the trees (waiting to poop on you, lol).

I didn’t arrange for a ride back therefore I had no way to get back into town. The red trucks in the parking lot are already paid to wait for existing visitors and I couldn’t get a grab to come out to get me as far as I am. I decided to just try to walk back to the main tourist area. It is a hot 45 minute to 1 hour walk but what choice did I have? I wandered through some neighborhoods and got to see a bit of local life. Maps.me and google maps seemed to be a bit loopy so I am sure I am not given a direct route.

Alley way in residential area.

I walk by a few temples viewed from the outside.

Soon there is a college campus in my way. I can’t find a good way to cut through. When I finally do find a cut through I end up walking through a learning mortuary. I keep hoping I won’t be presented with dead bodies during this stretch.

Finally I make it to the tourist area. The first temple I end up visiting is Wat Chedi Luang (Elephant Temple).

Wat Chedi Luang (Elephant Temple)

Wat Chedi Luang is fun due to all the elephants on the sides of the old temple.

All the temples require conservative dress. Additionally some you not able to visit if you are on your period (women) and for some women are not allowed at all (men only temples). I want to be respectful of culture norms but I would be lying if I said this didn’t upset me just a little bit.

Wat Phra Singh (Gold Temple)

Lastly for the day is a visit to the gold temple Wat Phra Singh, another buddhist temple.

Hot and tired I walk back toward my hotel. I have a craving for the fried chicken next door to my hotel so I order myself the best frozen mango drink and plate of fried chicken and I don’t regret it one bit. It is off to bed early because tomorrow is my day at the Elephant Sanctuary.