Sunday, June 26, 2016

Chiang Mai Night Market and Thai Cooking Class

Friday evening I decided to hit up the night market in Chiang Mai.  I didn't have plans for the evening and thought, "tonight is as good a night as any to get my shopping on" so that's exactly what I did.  

I love markets.  Wandering from booth to booth seeing what quirky and unique products are being sold.  Some things being sold are practical, some are super creative but entirely unnecessary.  I love bartering for a good price and just the environment is beautiful in its own chaotic way.

There are lots of funky lights sold at different booths.  I think if I came here as a teenager that I would have wanted ALL of them.  haha I literally used to hang a strand of Christmas tree lights around the perimeter of my ceiling.  I'm sure these would have only contributed to the vibe that used to rub me the right way.

 Cool lamps made from coconuts.  
 These weird cat and dog purses just made me laugh.  I like to envision the people who buy the products at each of the booths.  What does the owner of such a bag use it for?  Are they actually cat and dog lovers or do they just find the bags funny?  I have so many questions for the purchasers of these products!
 Painted fans.  I've noticed since my elephant ride extravaganza, my eyes are attracted to souvenirs that involve elephants.  haha I don't know what I would bring home--maybe a cool painting.  I've tried to bring home a painting from every country I've lived/traveled.  We'll see if I can eventually find a good one here.
 Purses galore!  Again, teenage Mallory would have been in heaven! I had an extensive collection of purses--one from Hawaii was in the shape of a hut.  haha They have some cool ones here that are decorated with really bright thread in intricate patterns.  
 Here's a little glimpse of the market.  It goes really far back in these canopies.  They also had several stations where you could go to a "foot spa" which really meant sticking your feet into a tank with hundreds of tiny fish that nibbled on your feet.  Maybe eating dead skin?? I don't know.  Part of me wanted to give it a go, another part of me was certain I'd be the git giggling the through the whole experience because I'm very ticklish.

 REALLY cute kids shoes.  150 baht = $4.50
 These busted me up because they reminded me of Steve Carell's character from "Dinner for Shmucks"-- who makes little scenes with dead mice.  haha Again, I wonder who buys these?  Where do they put them in their house?  Above the toilet?  In a kids room?  What are these for exactly?!

 It was a really fun experience meandering through the market.  I didn't end up buying anything because there was nothing I really needed.  It was still a fun way to pass the evening and I loved soaking it all in.

When I got home from the market, I decided I wanted to go to a cooking class the next day.  The two British ladies from the Elephant Camp had recommended "The Best Thai Cookery School".  Humble name choice, eh?  It's 850 baht for a whole morning of cooking.  Essentially it adds up to $25 which included them picking me up from my hotel, taking me to the market to shop for fresh ingredients, cooking the dishes myself, providing me a recipe book of the dishes we made and dropping me back off at my hotel afterwards.  It felt like a steal to me.

The market was a lot of fun.  I hadn't been shopping for food or ingredients yet and it felt like a whole new world to delve into.  Our chef for the day showed us three types of curry paste - red curry, green curry and panang curry.  While you can buy it already made, he would be teaching us how to make it from scratch today.  Eek!
 As a side note, Thailand has some of the most peculiar produce!  It seems like it should grow under water or on another planet.  Seriously, what is this?!  It's so pretty and bizarre at the same time!
 Part of my concern throughout this market experience is whether or not I'll be able to find these products back home in New York City.  I had to go to THREE different grocery stores just to find ingredients for birthday cake I made for my roommate.  What are the odds the stores will have ingredients I need for Thai dishes??

 Again with the crazy produce.  I need to try these before I leave.  I just have no idea how to eat them.  I will have to learn, I suppose.
 I did pick up a few ingredients to bring home.  It's hard not knowing which spices and seasonings will be hardest to find but I picked out the ones I'd need for Panang Curry.  

 After shopping for ingredients at the market, we drove out of the city for about an hour.  The buildings became less frequent and the scenery out the window became more and more dense with everything lush and green.

We ended up at this big house of sorts, where each of us had a gas stove, cutting board, apron and recipe book awaiting us.  It was fun.  It felt so official having my own station where I could cook.  

 He taught us how to make sticky rice with Mango.  He had some really interesting pots he used to steam the rice.  Apparently it's very important that it's steamed and not boiled.
 While the rice was steaming, he gave us ingredients to Chicken Coconut Milk Soup.  I've tried this dish on other occasions and love it so I was excited to get the inside scoop.  It was fairly straight forward and didn't require many ingredients.

 I had a  really  difficult time containing myself during the consumption portions of today.  This soup was phenom.  Literally every time I took a bite I had to fight everything in me that wanted to make "Mmm" sounds out loud.  The flavors were rich.  I kept thinking, "If I can find these ingredients in New York, I'm packing this soup to work every. single. day."
 When the sticky rice was done being steamed, we got to consume the crap out of that with fresh mango.  I was a little skeptical at the idea of having rice as a part of a dessert, but it was bomb.  I don't know who came up with all of these recipes but I would like to hug him/her for bringing such delicious calories to the world. haha
 Next, we got started on our curry dishes.  We each got to pick which type of curry we wanted to make.  While I lived in Virginia, the people I nannied for would often order from a Thai restaurant close by.  They introduced me to Panang Curry which was genuinely sometimes the best part of my day while living in Virginia.  #fatjoke.  So naturally, I asked if I could learn to make Panang Curry for our lesson. 
 The curry needed to simmer for 10 minutes so while that was happening, I went to town on my side dish--I chose fried vegetables.  The cute Swiss couple to my right spoke french to each other throughout the lesson and he offered to take a few pictures while I was vegetable chopping.

 The curry was finally finished and we had to set it aside while we mad Pad Thai.
 I've had Pad Thai a couple of times in Thailand so far.  It's pretty cheap to buy on the street and is a super common Thai dish.  We had to make the sauce and dice some of the ingredients.  It didn't feel too complicated.

  The tricky part was after the noodles had cooked, we were supposed to push them to the side, pour the egg around most of the pan, put the cooked noodles in the middle of the egg and fold the sides of the egg over the noodles.  He called it a Pad Thai Omelet.  His looked really pretty.  Mine was busting out of the omelet, like a woman in a corset eating Krispy Kreme donuts.

 The fried vegetables came together quite nicely.  Man, I love veggies.  Why does produce seem to be more delicious in every other country but mine?  
 With all of our dishes complete, we got to move everything over to the table and eat.  There wasn't a lot of talking while we all sat eating at the table.  It reminded me of what a few Italians used to say on my mission:  If people aren't talking at dinner, it must mean the food is good."  That adage proved to be true today.  ALL of it was delicious.  I kept wondering, "Are there people in the world that make meals this delicious every day?  If so, how I do become one of those people?"  I reflected on my signature dishes of Tomato Basil Soup or Taco Soup and felt more than a wee bit embarrassed about my go-to meals.  But after this class, I'm feeling inspired.  I need to seriously up my game in the kitchen when the possibilities look like this:
 We had extra time after class to walk around the property.  Look how amazing this place is:
 I meandered around the gardens thinking about how romantic it felt.  I seriously think I would even kiss Gumby's face if he walked with me through here.  Haha 

 Unfortunately we all had to pack up and head back to our hotels.  I read a book on the trip with my stomach completely and entirely satisfied.

When I got back into town, I got a foot massage from the dear lady across the street from my hotel.  I stopped to talk with her yesterday and she's one of the nicest people I've met here so far.  Her English is very limited and my Thai is...well...not existent, but we still manage to chat and make each other laugh.  

She served me ginger tea after the massage.  I don't normally like ginger nor do I really appreciate tea, but this stuff was so good!  I was asking how to make it and where to buy ingredients.  She knew I was going to the airport that evening and since I wouldn't have time to buy ingredients from the market, she sold me a few bags of her own collection and said she'd go to the market later in the week to replenish.  She was such a kind lady.  She hugged me when I left and called me her friend.  Is it weird that small moments like that mean the world to me?  I know I probably won't see her again and our conversations consisted of a lot of gestures but I looked forward to seeing her when I passed by her parlor while in Chiang Mai.  I have a soft spot for kind people.

 She gave me her card and told me to come back next time I'm in Thailand.  If I do come back to Thailand, you bet I'll try to come back to this very spot.
I checked out of my hotel and got a cab to the airport.  I was oddly sentimental about leaving my hotel and Chiang Mai.  The people at my hotel had been so kind and helpful.  They called taxis for me, gave me advice about where to go, made phone calls for me in Thai to clarify details on my excursions, etc.  I felt very taken care of by them.
So that's it!  I headed to the airport, bought a ticket back to Bangkok and made it back to my hotel in Bangkok around 10:30pm.  I get so sleepy here at night.  It makes me laugh when people ask where I'm going to party in the evenings here.  My hotel.  By myself.  Because sleeping is important to me.  haha I regret nothing!

Today was a really good day.  I was sad to leave Chiang Mai but so pleased with how much I was able to do there.  It was my introduction to Thailand and holds some huge, fun, sweet, valuable memories for me.  HOW do I even top the last few days here?  I genuinely don't know if it's possible.  

Friday, June 24, 2016

Flight of the Gibbon: Zip lining, Repelling, Hiking and Basket Weaving

Last night before I went to bed, I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for zip lining today.  I ran down to the front office of the place I'm staying, they made a call and said to be ready in the morning at 6:30am.  I got picked up from my hotel, driven about an hour outside of Chiang Mai where I met with my group.

They strapped us into their safety gear and introduced us to the staff members who would be helping us through the course.  I wish I had pictures of them!  Balloon, John and Scott drove with us up to the first platform where they went over safety instructions and zip lined with us all day.  They were nuts!  It was so much fun.  They whooped and hollered when they went down before us, they would shake the zip line to make us bounce on our way down, etc.  They so much fun and seemed to adore their job.
 The course through the rainforest was unbelievable.  They would hook us onto the zip line, have us run off the platform, and we slide all the way across the wire where a staff member caught us on another platform high up in a tree.  This repeated throughout the day with occasional rope bridges or repelling platforms mixed in.
This video was filmed by Scott.  He went first down the zip line and filmed me making it onto the platform.  They caught us when we got to the platform so we didn't ramrod ourselves into the tree.  haha We got going so fast and even after hours of zip lining, it still made me yell.

I was the only solo rider, but there were two girls from Nevada who were visiting Thailand on summer break and two people from Hong Kong.  It was just the five  of us that had Balloon, Scott and John to ourselves.  It was the perfect size.  

 Balloon was a HUGE tease.  When we walked across the rope bridge he would shake it or chase us across.  They also told us about the insects and snakes that we might see throughout the day and would occasionally make hissing sounds just to freak us out.  haha
We probably zip lined between 30 platforms.  Some were longer and faster than others but they always seemed to have a way to spice each of them up.  On several of them, they would hook us to the wire, ask us to walk of the edge and they'd swing us back and forth before they let us go.  

For the most part, I did okay.  I get pretty freaked out about heights.  So the few times I let myself look straight down off the platform, I'd have to step back and take a few breaths before jumping.  They're very high in the air and most of them get you going pretty fast.

Balloon went ahead of me on this one.  They called this one "Superman".  On this particular zip line, they strapped you in from behind so you had to jump face first off the platform.  It was hands down the most terrifying one for me.  It took me a while to get myself to jump.  Once you can get yourself off the platform, it's completely exhilarating.

We were going for a couple of hours but it never got old to me.  It was so hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that I was zip lining through the rainforest!!  It's too many fun things in one sentence.  It was absolutely beautiful.

On a couple of platforms, they would have you repel down to a platform below.  It did a number on my fear of heights because you spend the entire day falling in one way or another.  It's not a typical day in the life of a social worker but I loved every second.

 It was super hot and sweaty but it didn't rain until we were on our last platform and had to repel to the bottom.  We really lucked out with the weather!  Once we were done zip lining, they had us pile into a van to drive us back to the main office for lunch.  Since it was raining, it was slippery and muddy.  The driver of our van had to make three attempts to drive up the muddy hill.  He'd get the front two wheels onto the road on top of the hill, but the bottom we'd slide back down and he'd rev the engine to make another attempt.  It was kind of scary but there was loads of applause when we finally got out.

Our whole group was blown away by how delicious lunch was.  They had an incredible coconut soup, a mushroom dish, chicken, salad and fresh fruit.  It was amaze balls.  While we were eating and laughing about how insane our day had been, an employee approached us to see if we'd like to walk through a village and see a nearby waterfall.  Uh...obviously.

They took us to this 100 year old village tucked away in the rainforest.  We got to see the different uses of tea leaves.  They sold little pillows stuffed with tea leaves, some tiny enough that they recommend putting them in your shoes when they small bad.  haha They showed us a cinnamon tree and let us each chew on some pieces of it.  It was really good.  One of the girls in our group said, "It tastes like hot tamales."  haha 

We met one of the women in the village that weaves baskets from dried bamboo leaves.  To make a small basket, like the one pictured on the left, it takes a whole day--to cut the leaves in small pieces and weave it into a basket.  
They gave us each a handful of bamboo leaves and let us attempt to weave the beginnings of a basket.  
I can see how it would take a long time.  Mine was getting out of control and I was only weaving it for 2 minutes.  haha
From there we went on a 10 minute hike through the rainforest, winding our way up to the waterfall.

 I kept thinking throughout the walk how incredible all of the sounds were.  The birds, the insects, the stream, the sound of rain as it landed on the leaves above us, etc.  There is something really calming about that environment.  I thought about all of the mindfulness CD's that have babbling brooks in the back ground.  It made sense to me that we'd want to recreate the feeling of being in such a beautiful environment.  I certainly didn't want to leave.
 Our hike up to the waterfall had some fairly steep staircases.  I loved being outside and hiking through so much green.  I kept wondering if the staff members loved hiking it everyday or if it ever gets old.

 I made it back to Chiang Mai around 3:00pm.  I got a body scrub--essentially they rub your whole body down with a salt mixture.  I loved it but I'm sure I would have appreciated it more if I wasn't sun burned on my back from yesterday with the elephants.  haha It's now trickling rain outside.  I'll probably head to the night market and will hopefully come home to get a normal night's rest.  I only slept four hours last night.  I don't know if it was because of jet lag or my excitement to spend the day zip lining but I probably should get some sleep.  haha It's hard to do when everyday feels so exciting.