Welcome to Chiang Mai, a mountainous city in the mountains of Northern Thailand. Chiang Mai is at a crossroads, both historically (trace routes between China, Burma, India, Southern Thailand and Malaysia) and currently-- a jumping off point for many adventure-seeking travelers who flock to the mountains to trek, white-water raft, rock climb, and basically any activity that involves jungle. Then there're the tourists who come here to shop. Chiang Mai is the source for much of Thai products, like silk, wood work, laquerware, gems...basically anything you'd want to buy in Thailand. Chaing Mai is also surrounded by varying hilltribe villages...a great number of ethnic tribal minorities who also make handicrafts and whose villages can serve as tourist destinations. Because of the variety of travellers who stop here, Chiang Mai is full of guesthouses/hostels as well as nice hotels, lots of cute cafes and restaurants and some fancy ones, too. And lots of tailors. But we'll get to that in a little bit.
When Jon and I first got here, it was hot. Severely hot. We had just gotten off the train after a lovely overnight trip in sleeper cars, which make me feel like I'm back in the forts I used to make out of my bottom bunk of my bunk bed growing up. We took a tuk-tuk into town but somwhere along the way we heard about a guesthouse that had a pool. After walking around in the Old City looking for a cheap guesthouse that we liked (I felt like Goldilocks...nothing felt quite right), we relented and went to the place with the pool. It's still cheap, by almost any standard--a double room for $12 a night-- but it's still a little more than the cheapest dorm beds here--$3/night. But it has a pool! And it's nice, and cute. It has a nice patio area, and lots of cool Thai furnature/decor.
That night, we rented motorbikes again, for the next 48 hours. The next morning, we got up and headed out of town towards a mountain that supposedly had a temple, a palace and a Hmong village on it. The road was nice, shady and curvy. The temple was alright...it had an amazing view of the city, and was at the top of a huge flight of stairs. It was very gold and shiny, a little ostentatious for my tastes. I like the stone, older temples more. The kind of Thai temples that are covered in gold and ornamentation don't give me the same peaceful feeling I get from some of the older ones, and most of the Korean Buddhist temples I went to.
The palace was a flop--you had to be wearing long pants (who wears long pants in Thailand in the summer?!) and covered shoulders, or you could rent clothes, and plus paying an entrance fee. So we continued down an increasingly bumpy and potholed road to the Hmong village.
The Hmong are an ethnic tribal group, originating from Burma and Laos, who live in the mountains for Thailand. They are most known (at least to me) as the tribe of the people in the book "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down," a book both Jon and I had to read for an intro to Sociology course (great book, by the way). The book is about a Hmong family who moves to California as refugees, and whose young daughter gets epislepsy. It's about the contrast between the family's conception of the illness, and life in general, and how it contrasts with the doctors' and everyone else around them. In the village, I could really see how completely different it is from urban America, and I could sympathize with the characters in the book. The village was beautiful, tucked away in the mountains that were topped with whispy clouds.
After the village, we had a picnic with some supplies we had brought from town. It was great...we had found a real bakery, so I had real wheat bread for the first time in a long time, and we found snap peas and green beans at a local market, along with mangoes, and had bought cheese and pepperoni at a local grocery store. It was a delicious lunch.
That night we went to the movie theater and saw Angels and Demons. I liked it a lot. I won't say much about it, for those of you who haven't seen it. But I will say that watching a movie in Thailand is interesting, because after the previews and before the movie, they play the national anthem (everyone must stand up) while showing a montage of pretty much propaganda pictures of happy Thais and the King and Queen helping people and just generally being cool.
Yesterday, we ate lunch in a restaurant run by the Department of Corrections as a vocational training center at the women's detention center. It was delicious, and it was nice to feel like we were contributing something to the local community. Then, in the mid-afternoon when it was starting to rain, we decided to visit the tailor's shop next to the guesthouse, just to get some quotes.
Anyone who's travelled in Asia knows that tailor's shops are all over, and usually cheap and fast, but I never really thought about going to one. I couldn't think of a reason to buy custom-made clothes. But then I kept seeing really pretty dresses in the windows, and I got to thinking. I'm going to law school next year, I'll have to dress up sometimes. And I always have a hard time finding professional clothes that look good that I can afford. So, we looked at pictures and asked about prices at a few places, and finally found a good shop.
Well. I ended up ordering 2 suit jackets, 2 pairs of pants, one skirt and one beautiful silk dress, all for $250. And I mean nice material, and custom made. I am sooo excited! I figured, a nice suit will cost at least that much, not to mention 2 and a dress. Since I'm going to law school, I"ll need those clothes.
And they are GORGEOUS! We picked them up Thursday night, and I am so excited! Too bad I have to ship them home and not see them again for 2 months. The dress is soooo nice, and I feel like a princess...actually, I feel like a grown-up ready to attend cocktail parties and benefits...now I just need a cocktail party or a benefit. Hmmm....
While in Chiang Mai, we also took a cooking course. It was a great investment. The class was small...Jon and I and 4 other girls from our guesthouse were in a group together. First, we went to a local market, where our teacher told us all about the various herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables involved in Thai cooking. Then he bought the ingredients we needed for the day, and some fruit for us to try back at the school. The fruit was crazy--looks like some kind of cartoon space fruit. I don't think I could have even imagined some of it.
Back at the school, he explained about how to make the different kinds of rice...normal, sticky, jasmine...and then we started cooking. We had selected 6 dishes at first, one out of the three choices in each category (curry paste/curry dish, soup, stir-fry, appetizer, and desert). There were 2 other groups in different rooms, and for each dish we would go to the corresponding room to learn and cook, then come back to our original group to eat after each dish.
Everything we made was sooo good! Jon and I made sure to chose different dishes so we could maximize the dishes we learned and the dishes we ate! I made chicken cashew stir-fry, coconut chicken soup, spring rolls, green curry paste, green curry chicken and veggies, and sticky rice with mango. The final products were some of the best Thai food I'd had (not to say much for myself...its all in the fresh ingredients and the teaching.) We all got a recipe book with all the dishes plus some, and a nice ingredient guide and a substitution guide if you can't find some of the herbs and spices. Mmmm. I'm hungry just thinking about it. Can't wait to get home and cook!
"Words have no wings, but they can travel a thousand miles" (Korean Proverb)
Welcome to Flying Words, Jon and Aileen's blog of our adventures in South Korea! We will be in South Korea for a year, starting in mid-July, teaching English in a private school. We just graduated from college this past May, and are looking forward to having some adventures before continuing our education.
We started this blog to keep all our family and friends updated and to share our photos and stories. We hope this is entertaining for you! We will miss you all, and are very thankful to have the internet to keep us in touch.