Thursday, May 11, 2006

Chiang Mai again...

Parents popped into Chiang Mai for 3 weeks. Headed down the the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel (sounds posh, doesn't it?) to meet them for dinner. Ate at one of the four restaurants in the hotel. I had the steak, very predictable. The next day I was in tour guide mode and we went along to Wat Phra Singh, a large temple inside the old city. It was nice and quiet not many other visitors. A few small temples lay round the side and in the courtyard there were trees with Buddhist proverbs, but sometime the language didn't seem to translate very well. We nipped off for a cheap lunch at a small restaurant behind the Wat. Then with my unfailing sense of direction and map-reading skills we went through the back lanes of Chiang Mai. Not lost, merely taking the scenic route, ahem. After a while we got to the right destination Fern Forest Cafe for a spot of iced coffee among the cool water mist being sprayed into the leafy gardens. Later on back to the hotel for a spot of chinese grub, I plumped for the sweet & sour pork, but had a tasty of the duck as well which was yummy!

Come Friday, we went and had a nosy round the large Kad Suan Kaew shopping centre, a decent place to escape the afternoon heat. Just stay away from the Karoke Centre if you want peace and quiet. My apartment is closeby, so popped back there to have a look around and view my Songkran pictures taken with a waterproof disposable camera. Then on to have a strange tasting Italian strawberry soda at a local cafe, while Mum ended up with something like plum-coffee. Aaah, the joys of ordering food & drink in a foreign country. Back down the hotel for a spot of dinner in the beer garden, I opted for a big fish (tumtim?) on a plate while my parents pigged out on a five course dinner :)

Next day, a long lunch in a little garden cafe, Siam Celadon. Then a stroll throught the streets lined with textile shops and trinkets pouring out onto the pavement from the shops. Stopped at a stone/gem shop and Dad displayed his bartering skills with a Nepalese merchant, getting a few bits of polished glass for a steep price!! Onwards toward Warorot Market, just the place is you want to buy some smoked fish (the flies come free). A few bags of tea were purchased from the belly of the market. Outside on the West coast of the river flower vendors display their wares for the world to see. Seems to be a huge selection, with them often popping up adorning shrines and temples.

That night it was down the river Ping on a cruise. Dinner was served up with spring rolls appetizer and horses doovers(tm) consisting of pink fatty sausage, brown spicy sausage, mini-hamburgers and some veg. I had a couple of chicken breasts in lemon sauce with fried rice, more than enough! Nobody was deemed brave enough to order "Fried Chicken Knobbly Knees". A walk back through the night market centre found a climber high up on the wall, looked far too much like hard work to get up there with the overhang.

On Sunday was Doi Suthep a long road up the mountain eventually gets you to the bottom of the 300 steps to the temple. After puffing and sweating out way up there we were rewarded with a beautiful temple and good views stretching out across the geographical bowl in which Chiang Mai resides.

After Doi Suthep we stopped off at the Chiang Mai zoo and caught sight of the pandas, who were suprisingly active! One showed of his atheltic prowess as his slithed through a bamboo ladder upside down. I'm sure most people though he was going to fall on his head. Some some other animals included a very smelly hippo!

Sunday night it was over to the night market for a trek along the packed streets, cruising along through the throngs of people browsing. A little rain caused panic among the vendors and we took the oppurtunity to eat more food, after finding the Wok restaurant. Another decent dinner, I could get used to this!

The next day it was down the food market where there was some packaged frogs for sale. Also took in the nearby flower market. Later on rain appeared as we were going back through the textile and gems shops, the gem-dealers shop seemed to have a hole in it and the water was leaking over his jewelery. Still we managed to jump in a passing songthaew and escape back to the hotel pretty much dry.

Another day it was off in a tuk-tuk for some lunch beside Wat Suan Dok. Some helpful person helped us order as there was no English menu. (If it was down to me everybody would be eating Chicken Fried Rice) They recommended the fish and they were certainly right! It was delicious, simple fried fish in batter but very yummy. Also some chicken with spice maybe cinammon an unusual taste. We then nipped along to the Art Musuem close to the University. The had a nice elephant sculpture, made from smaller elephants. Hard to decribe, guess you just had to see. It is a large barn, but the paintings are mostly modern, no dusty old pictures here. Lots of vibrant colours and some strange paintings. Then we progressed along to Wat Suan Dok, where a huge golden centrepiece blinds you as the sun shines on it fiercely. Just next to it lies a large graveyard. Inside the temple a huge Buddha has company with several smaller Buddhas. Chatted to the monks, who were all from Cambodia for some reason. Not yet picked up a saffron robe though.

After that it was down to the park for some people watching. The power walkers were out in force, on particular chapped seemed to be circling the park every few minutes. A few guys were playing with takraw, a small woven football is used for keepy-ups. When they get serious a net is hauled out and the sport played is a cross between football and volleyball. A woman at the edge of the pond managed to hauk out a fish with her fingers and gave it to an old guy who wandered off outide presumably to cook it. That's some easy dinner.

Shopping at Ban Tawai the next day, an easy taxi ride to get there, but not much point in getting him to wait as we ended up staying there for about 4-5 hours grabbing lunch at a small cafe. Very hot today, but it started to spit rain in the afternoon. Problem was that the available transport was waiting for people who were shopping, so a bit stuck. Still after a bit of confusion, a policeman helped us out and somebody phoned for transport. Turned out to be a samlor which is basically a motorbike with a sidecar, so the three of us squeezed on to the sidecar for the short ride back to the main road. About a minute later we had secured a ride on a yellow songthaew going back to Chiang Mai, and then a red one back to the hotel, here they have a well-integrated transport system! Just not sure about the prices, the longest ride was the cheapest...

Dinner was at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Centre. This was a case of sitting on the floor with a triangular cushion for support. Fried chicken and curried pork, cabbage, lettuce, sticky rice, normal rice & rice crispies (not the cereal!) were served up. Then some dancers were up on stage with huge long fingernails doing the (wait for it....) fingernail dance. Another danceer was a rather large geezer doing the sword dance, dancing amongst the swords on the ground and carrying them in his mouth.

Next day it was off into the Mae Sa valley for a stroll through the orchid farm. While not all the orchids were in bloom, more than enough were open for a colourful display. Quite a large area, they must of had thousands of plants. Afterwards is was on to the snake farm. Just in time for the show. The show was excellent, with the compere and his funny voice. "You can kiss the snake, but don't let the snake kiss you". It's not everyday you get to kiss a python. They snakes were almost in the crowd. Somebodys foot was almost fed to the big snake! Then they threw a bit of rope from a sack into the crowd, after saying all this stuff about jumping snakes, causing havoc. Half the people were running away!
After another hard day it was time to pop across the river to Dukes for a huge dinner of salad, fried, spare ribs & beans, yummy!

We decided to head south to Mae Wang elephant camp and hopefully see the elephants. However on arrival it was down a steep dirt path and over a shaky bamboo bridge, not for Mum! Dad & I went for a trek through the forest on the elephant. You climb up a small platform and then step on the elephants head to get on the seat. It was fairly steep forest which the elephant was clambering up. He seemed somewhat reluctant on the downward section which earned him a very solid CRACK on his head from the mahout. Then Nelly went back to the start and into the river to cool down and quick banana snack from Dad.

We stopped off at a small roadside restaurant and had a nosy round the local market, picking up a bag of tangerines. After a bit of fried rice with veg it was back to Chiang Mai and check out a few more temples on the way. That night it was off to a huge local restaurant which was certainly an experience. A huge buffet which you cook yourself at the table. Inside the table a bucket of hot coals is placed. Above this lies something like an upturned metal bucket which provides the hot plate to cook the meat, round the edge water is poured so you can boil the vegetables as well. Cheap, cheerful and fun, but very hot with the coals!!

The next day it was into the proper cooking as we took a Thai cooking course. This involved a trip down to a nearby market to pickup the ingredients. The instructor showed us the different veg & fruits available in Thailand. Then we traipsed back into the kitchen to cook up a storm in our woks! We managed to (mostly) make edible food. I somehow got volunteered to mash up the 20-odd chilies used in the curry paste, bashing away at a large mortar and pestle, and trying to keep it in the bowl. Plenty of food anyway, with 4-5 dishes prepared and eaten. Still don't like food as spicy as the Thais though.

After the cooking we went off to the Night Safari a short distance out of town, Chiang Mai's newest tourist attraction. We had a bried walk round the first trail but then turned back to ensure catching the English version of the tram rides. It was good as the animals came really close to you and provide an excellent view of them. Lots of deer, zebra, wildebeest, giraffes and elephants were nearby for our viewing pleasure.

A quiter weekend was upahead for the parents with a bit of relaxing by the pool, all these activities had tired them out. I meanwhile had to let Crawford buy me beer!! He was working in Bangkok and decided to pop up to Chiang Mai for a week for a spot of chilling.

We nipped across to the riverside restaurant for some decent Thai food and then looped back to the Kafe and the Blues bar for some SRV, then onto some other bar probably things were a bit hazy by then.

Next night we all went out for a buffet meal in the Mae Ping beer garden, before popping along to a bar or two with Crawford for some late night discussion about how bad Rangers have been this season :)

I made the obligatory visa run on Tuesday, but travelling VIP class which means a big decent seat with headrest and legrest. After the usual bureaucrocy another 30 days in Thailand. As the bus didn't leave for another few hours, I wandered back to the bus station from the border, getting alternately sunburnt and soaked by the changing weather. I then tried to find a park which I had seen signposted on the way into the bus station, but it would not be found. So instead I wandered into some goverment office which had a sign saying free internet, although I don't think they were expecting Johnny Farang to turn on their doorstep.

Next day it was off to Pom Pui, an Italian restaurant lurking in the sois of Chian Mai, for a long lunch to say goodbye to the parents. After fair too much food, jumped in a tuk-tuk and tried to find Fern Forest Cafe a misty garden cafe again hiding in the backstreets. After much navigating we stumbled upon the cafe and a welcome cool drink of ice-coffee. Soon it was time to say the goodbye, three weeks had whizzed by already and the parents were heading back to Sunny Glasgow. In a couple of days Crawford leaves and then for me it will be back on the bike for a few weeks or cycling, circling back to Chiang Mai for the 6th June, training it down to Bangkok, flying over to Macau, ferrying across to Hong Kong, and busing into China! (If all goes well...)

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