Lots to do in Chiang Mai

2 06 2010

We arrived around 8am on the sleeper train. We hadn’t slept much but were able to get a tuk tuk to some accommodation. We ventured out for breakfast and found mango with sticky rice from Sailom Joy. This was to be our breakfast for every morning in Chiang Mai. We booked some activities for the rest of our time, went to AUM Vegetarian Restaurant for lunch and had ice lemon tea, pineapple juice, brown rice with tofy, spicy thai coconut curry and veg tempura with tamarind dipping sauce. We were stuffed to the brim so had a rest in the afternoon before having dinner at Taste from Heaven. We ate Thai papaya salad, spicy tofu and benas followed by taro in coconut milk for dessert. In the evening we went to the night markets and Sunday markets and bargained for some souvenirs.

Day 2 we again ate way too much food. We had mango and sticky rice (khao nieo mamuang) for breakfast then did a Thai Cooking Course through GAP. They were able to change the recipes to suit our dietary needs and with only 4 people in the group, it meant we were well looked after. Joe was our very funny teacher who would say things like “Oh no, I no like it spicy, tell me Joe, what should I do?” “It’s ok, I add only a little chilli”.

First stop was the markets where we were shown fresh produce and the food was purchased for our cooking. We got some wax apple – one tropical fruit we hadn’t eaten yet.

There were so many dishes that we got to make. First up, we learnt to make green curry paste. Then we made green curry with eggplant and sweet basil, followed by cashew nut stirfry, then tofy souffle, thai style tofu cakes with cucumber sauce and tom yum soup with mushrooms and tomatoes. After we had cooked all that it was time for lunch where we ate it all. Then we were taught how to make tomato roses and onion lotus flowers to decorate a plate. Then we made mango sticky rice, thai spring rolls with plum sauce and pad thai with peanuts and lime. All these dishes were put into take away containers so we could enjoy them for dinner that night. It was so much food! And they made it very easy to adjust the taste – if too salty add sugar, if too sweet add soy sauce, if too creamy add stock and if too bland add chilli.

The next day we were picked up and taken to the Elephant Nature Park. This was by far the highlight of our trip. We were able to feed, wash, give mud spas, get kissed by and look after Asian elephants. The photos tell all. We stayed overnight and the next morning went on a guided walk of the park, being told the individual stories of the elephants. One elephant was blind as both her eyes had been stabbed out by her former trainer. She had also lost her baby as she was forced to work during her labour and was climbing up a hill when her baby came out and tumbled down. While we were sitting down in the shade an elephant came right up to us and let us scratch her behind the ears and in the cheek. She was beautiful and very placcid. If you ever have a chance, go to the Elephant Nature Park run by Lek. It is most worthwhile.

Our last day in Chiang Mai was a work day for Benno – he stayed at the guesthouse and played internet while Lara went on a tour to the highest spot in Thailand (cold compared to town), huge momuments built for the King and Queen, two waterfalls, a karen village and a government project to get people to grow flowers and vegetables instead of opium.

Ayutthaya by 3rd class train

29 05 2010

We took the 3rd class wooden seater train to Ayutthaya from Bangkok for a bargain 15B each. It was a packed train, so we were happy to have snagged a seat but with so many people leaning over, putting luggage at our feet and standing in front of us there was still very little room to move. The locals made sure we knew when to get off, although it wasn’t too much off schedule. We caught a local ferry (4B) acorss the river and walked to Tony’s Place. We couldn’t find any veg restuarants from happycow so after wandering around for an hour we decided to see if Tony’s could cook us something. We were able to have Pad Thai and rice and vegetables for lunch. And for dinner we had fries, sweet and sour tofu veg and thick noodles.

In town was a supermarket where in the surrounding streets there were icecream shops, pizza, burgers and any number of unhealthy foods. We named it “fat street”. We were healthy and bought cereal and juice from the supermarket. The tamarind juice is fast becoming Benno’s favourite, but we definitely do not recommend the Bael juice that we also had.

The next day we hired bicycles and road around town. We went to the temple with the iconic buddha’s head surrounded by tree roots, but the rest of the temple was in ruins because “it leave in a ruin” as “the earthquake caused the crumble”. After coming from Angkor Wat the ruins weren’t that interesting for us so we road our bikes around and looked at the other temples from afar. We went in search of a vegetarian restaurant for lunch. We found the right street but couldn’t see any numbers. Benno randomly went into one stall and asked if they knew the place we were looking for…and it was the right shop! With no spoken or written English we both had rice and stir fried veg and tofu with a peppery broth, ice water and fresh mangosteens and rambutans for dessert. For the 2 of us it came to 50B (about $2).

That night we caught the overnight train to Chiang Mai. The sleepers were seats that converted into bunks. The rail was not as smooth as China so the top bunk swayed with the movement of the train and made it difficult to sleep without being thrown off the side. On the upside, the privacy was good, with curtains that covered the whole side and gave a little cubby to sleep in.

The buddha's head.

Do not travel: Bangkok

27 05 2010

After an exhausting 3 days of temple trekking we went to Bangkok from PP. We were a little hesitant since the Australian government had Bangkok listed as a ‘Do not travel’ destination due to the recent red shirt activity and arson on one of the largest shopping malls in Asia. We took a taxi from the airport where the driver blocked the meter with a pop-up DVD screen that played Robbie Williams live in concert, but fortunately this driver was not one that rips off tourists. It took about 50 mins and 400 baht to drive across town to our accommodation. Surprisingly, there were lots of tourists out on the streets and the guesthouse seemed relatively busy so not everybody was observing the government warnings.

We went out for a late dinner at the close-by May Kaidees, then walked through Khao San Road markets on the way back to our guesthouse.

We weren’t sure about travelling too far afield in case we were attacked by terrorists (not really!) so we decided to catch a river taxi to Wat Pho, a famous temple with a giant reclining buddha. Unfortunately, due to an inability to read the map we wandered around for 1 hour when it should have taken 2 mins to get to the river taxi. 14 Baht (50c) later we had caught the river taxi and followed the orange clad monks to the temple. There were lots of Indian/Sri Lankan tourists at the temple getting their photo taken with the buddha statue. The architecture was also distinctly different compared to elsewhere.

We had an expensive lunch at Ethos where vegan dishes were marked in red and vegetarian dishes marked in green. Benno spurged on an apple crumble with coconut custard for dessert.

In the afternoon we went to another Wat where there was a solid gold Buddha. We learnt that metered taxis are cheaper than fixed rate taxis.

That night we took a taxi to the other side of town where it took twice as long as we thought it would take, but eventually we had a Thai meal with Benno’s high school friend Nathan. We realised that curfew was coming up soon and we had to get back to our guesthouse. We caught a taxi and it took 10 mins to go 2 km. We thought everyone must be on the road going home. But then the traffic cleared, our driver went 90 km/hr and it took 20 mins to get back (compared to the 60 mins it took to get there) and we arrived half an hour before curfew.