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Chiang Mai was, hands down, my favourite part of the trip. Much of Thailand’s trekking industry is based out of Chiang Mai, and a short trek was high up on my must do list, as was a Thai cooking class. I definitely did not want to rent a motorcycle in busy city traffic. As it turned out, after learning a little bit more about trekking and what it means for the welfare of elephants and tribal communities, we decided against it. If I go back to Chiang Mai, which I really hope to do some day, I will instead visit to this amazing sounding (and highly recommended) elephant rescue organization, which was unfortunately fully booked for the time we were in the area.

Instead of trekking what did we do? We rented a motorcycle. I know, exactly what I didn’t want to do. But you know what? Totally my favourite part. With our motorcycle and a map and Paul’s brave driving and mad navigation skills, we went bombing around Chiang Mai and the surrounding areas. We went temple hopping, looked at ancient ruins, took sketchy single lane roads that looked like maybe they would lead somewhere interesting. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. One time we ended up on a dirt road so steep I had to jump off the back of the bike in order for it to get up to the top of the hill – that road lead us nowhere. We got to see the big glitzy temples jam packed with tourists, and we saw quiet, lovely, peaceful, organic temples with absolutely no one around. We’d stop when we saw something interesting, wander around for a bit, take a few pictures, then get back on the bike and move on. It was perfect.

We spent one lovely day in a Thai cooking class. We ended up taking a class run by a vegetarian restaurant just around the corner from our guest house. We started in the restaurant in the morning prepping some of the ingredients and chopping vegetables for the dishes we would be making. After the prep was done we were loaded into the back of a songthaew and headed off to a large market where we shopped for some more ingredients and had a market tour. After the market we continued on our way, about 15km out of town, and ended up at our instructor’s house in a farming area, where they had set up a cooking classroom in their back yard under a shady pavilion. We learned 12 dishes in all, some of which I’ll be sharing here shortly.

After our cooking class we decided to hit up some of the markets closer to our guest house and load up on ingredients to pack home. Wandering the markets was a definite highlight for me on this trip. The sights, the sounds, the smells, it was all so different from anything I’d ever experienced before. We stumbled upon a spice vendor who had all kinds of weird and wonderful things and Paul insisted on getting pretty well one of everything. We got dried chilies, powders, pastes, sauces. They had it, we bought it. It became quickly clear we were going to run out of space in our luggage so we did the only logical thing we could think of: we bought more luggage.

We found new luggage where one can find pretty much anything in Chiang Mai – at the night bazaar. The night bazaar was crazy. Frantic. Fabulous. We went three nights in a row. I loved it. I loved it so much, in fact, that I don’t have one single picture of it. I think I did take my camera on the first night but it was just too jammed with people that stopping to take my beast of a camera out wasn’t an option. A friend had asked me to get her a pashmina if I saw one, and so I got badly addicted to haggling with scarf sellers. I’d walk away from a stall all incensed because the seller would refuse to give me three for 100 Bhat. Then I’d give my head a shake and realize I was haggling over pennies. Plus, I was repeatedly the ‘first customer of the night’ and got offered a ‘very special price’, so really it was no big deal. I picked up some really fabulous art – oil paintings by a great artist I felt really good about buying from. And I continuously got ripped off on knock off designer sunglasses – I think I went through three pairs on the trip. We discovered a kitchen supply store and got some loot to go with our spices, including a big deep mortar and pestle. We filled our new luggage so full with sauces and spices and scarves and kitchen gadgets that when we checked in at the Chiang Mai airport it was literally bursting at the seams and we had to get it wrapped in plastic to make sure everything would make it.

We took in some Muay Thai kickboxing, which was beautiful and savage. We saw eight fights, seven of which ended in knockouts. And a couple of the contestants were, like, out, for a good chunk of time. No fakesies. I don’t have any pictures of that either. We rode in tuk tuks. Lots of them. We got suckered into buying roses from little children and then wandered the evening streets and left them on spirit houses. We sat on quite possibly the most uncomfortable bar stools of all time. We ate. We ate. And we ate.

I have a lot to say about the food in Chiang Mai and a recipe to share, but that, I think, belongs in a post of its own – this one is getting looooong. I’ll be back with that post in a flash. Promise!

One year ago: Tipico and not so Tipico

All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2012

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