My next stop was Chiang Mai. I am gradually working my way north and stopping to see the sites along the way. Chiang Mai is the heart of northern Thailand and a hustling and bustling city and I felt right at home there from when I first arrived. I actually stayed in Chiang Mai longer than I have any other city. It is a very western city with all the amenities and great food that is needed. The food has been awesome and the people very friendly. I have also had some great (and a couple not so great) Thai massages. I can't complain too much about the bad ones because paid less than $4 for an hour massage! I found a very relaxing (and cheap--$7) place to stay and stayed for a week (with a two day trek in the middle to the hill tribes).
I also spent Thanksgiving in Chiang Mai. I figured it would be a good place to find a turkey dinner because there were so many westerners in the area. I had no problem finding turkey and shared my Thanksgiving with an American (Susan), a Brit (Duncan), a Canadian (Brian) and an Israeli (Micha). Great to swap stories and share some turkey and stuffing!
I had wanted to take a Thai cooking course since I got here and Chiang Mai is the place to do it. I signed up for a full day course at one of the guest houses and it was definitely a highlight of my stay here. We chose 5 different dishes each (9 people in the class) and then went to the local market to buy the ingredients for all the dishes. The instructor was great. He explained everything to us we needed to know and when in the market answered all our questions about the weird looking food I had been seeing and had no idea what it was.
When we got back from the market we started making our dishes. It was nice because everyone got to cook for themselves and cook dishes that they would like. I could control how hot I made the dishes and I got to try the dishes that others made that I chose not to make. It was a feast for the entire day. Usually when you take a class or go on a trip you take a break in the afternoon to get something to eat. Here we took a break to stop eating and walk around before cooking more in the afternoon! I cooked a red curry, panang curry, spicy chicken and basil, spicy pepper dip, and mangoes with sticky rice and I have to say it was all delicious!
2 day Trek
One of the big attractions in Chiang Mai is doing a trek into the hills and visiting a local hill tribe. I signed up for a 2 day trek. Although we didn't do much trekking, I had a good time and met some really nice people. We trekked for about an hour an a half the first day through recently harvested rice fields to a Karen tribe village.
We spent the night in a hut outfitted especially for groups like ours. It was a thatched roof bamboo hut. Not the most comfortable or the warmest but I managed to get a decent night's sleep.
Visiting the tribes can be a highlight of the trip but since I chose to do a short trek, we went to an area that has become very touristy. So much so that when we arrive in the village they have cold beers and sodas waiting for us. Not really a remote tribe... but I got the picture of how they live. Here is a picture of the houses they stay in with leaf roofs. Not sure how waterproof they are during the monsoon season!
The second day of the trek saw a little more walking before stopping for lunch at the edge of the villages. Next we did some Bamboo rafting. Not quite the thrill as going down the Zambezi in Zimbabwe but it was fun. We rafted about an hour through some very small rapids.
Always looking for another mode of transportation I had to make sure to ride an elephant. We ended the trip with a short ride. My friend Micha and I enjoyed holding on for our dear lives as we went up into the hilly area.
Another highlight of my trip (I know... I have a lot of them, but isn't that what travel is all about?) was the Monk Chat. I know you all probably think it sounds crazy but there are so many Buddhist monks in Thailand and I was curious about how they become monks, why they where orange robes, etc that when I read that I could go and chat with them I thought it would be interesting. It is a chance for the monks to practice their English with any foreigners that show up. They have set times and when I was chatting there were 10 or so others doing the same thing. It was nice because I was able to ask all sorts of questions and learned a lot about the religion and the practices of the Monks.
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