Monday, September 21, 2009

Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School

We are both massive fans of Thai food and thought it would be nice to take a class while we were in Thailand. We heard about a famous cooking school in Chiang Mai and signed up for a full day course.

We met the guides downtown and they took us to a local market to learn about the ingredients we would use - check out the giant banana flower!!

After the market, we were ushered on to the back of a pick-up truck and taken to the school which was about 45 minutes away. The Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School was located in a luxurious villa in an upscale neighborhood. We were each given our own cooking station and the necessary tools . . . it was really a beautiful place to spend the day!

One dish at a time, we learned to make 6 Thai specialties from the school's founder, Sompon Nabnian. He is basically the 'Gordon Ramsay' of Thailand (without the fits) and has appeared many times on international TV.

Here's what we made . . .

Dish #1 - Tom Kha Gai - Chicken in coconut milk soup

Dish # 2 - Raad Nah Muu - Fried big noodles with thick sauce and pork

Dish # 3 - Phad Hed Ruam Khao Podom - Fried mixed mushrooms with baby corn.
Dish # 4 - Gaeng Phed Plaa - Red curry with fish

. . . Chef extraordinaire contemplating his next culinary masterpiece . . .

. . . too full . . .

. . . but she's back at it again . . .

Dish # 5 - Som Tam - Papaya salad

Dish # 6 - Khanom Kluay - Steamed banana cake

Well, the cooking school was awesome!!! Every dish was a winner! We've got recipes and have tried a few out since our trip. Get yourselves ready for some delicious Thai food when we get back to Canada!!

After the cooking school, we were tired and stuffed so we laid low and wandered around Chiang Mai for the rest of the evening. We had to catch a train back to Bangkok, anyway. We tried buying 1st class sleeper car tickets but they were sold out - we ended up with 2nd Class coach seats. That meant no bed this time. How bad could it be? Just ask Shawna! Here's the scene - literally 3 minutes into the 12 hour ride . . .

Don't worry Shawna - soon we'll be in Cambodia!!!!!!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chiang Mai Day 2 - Trekking

We didn't have much time in Chiang Mai so we opted for a one day trek. The one we chose contained all of the sights from the longer, multi-day treks - only with considerably less walking. We were picked up from our guesthouse at 8:00 AM along with our guide and three other backpackers from France. We drove about an hour out of Chiang Mai to our first stop . . . for an elephant ride!!

Our elephant's name was pronounced "goon", which our guide said translated to "money". An apt title based on the price of our day trek! We couldn't get any pictures of ourselves on the elephant but we'll hopefully be able to trade photos with the other people on our tour by email. We rode on the metal saddle . . . not exactly comfy . . . and our driver rode most of the way behind Goon's ears.

You can't tell, but we're on an elephant here . . . I promise!

It wasn't just a few laps around a man made track, either. It was an hour-long journey through the jungle. We had to hang on tight going up and down some steep inclines.

Here's Goon flapping his ears to cool off. Much better than the other guys' elephant who continuously sprayed himself (and them) with muddy water . . .

At about halfway through our ride we came to a clearing where we were treated to some breathtaking views of the northern country side.

You can see our friends up ahead at a 'banana break' stand. This is where our driver hopped off and left us at the reigns.

After the elephant ride we hopped back in a van and headed to visit the Karen Hill Tribes. They are originally from Burma but also live in the hills of Northern and Western Thailand. They live in huts built on stilts and continue to practice the 'old' way of life. The Karen are one of the tribes famous for 'long necks' with metal rings used to elongate their necks. We didn't see any, however, except in the brochure from the trekking company! Fortunately, we were able to see some weavers making cotton scarves and bought a few as souvenirs.

When we left the village, we started the acutal trekking part of our trip. We walked for about 40 minutes through the jungle towards a waterfall where we could swim.

Our guide showed us some cool things along the way. We ate some fruit straight off of trees, he showed us how to collect rainwater on giant palms, and he blew some bubbles with the sap in these leaves.

It was all quite touristy but there were some pretty scary bridges we had to cross.

We finally made it to the waterfall. It was extremely hot so our guide and us hopped in the river.

Along with a few other trekkers we crossed paths with . . .

It was really nice to go in for a dip but soon after came the rain. We didn't mind too much because it helped to keep us cool in the afternoon.

When we finished our walk, the van was waiting for us and took us for some lunch. We ate some delicious Thai food at a shack by the road. We were able to chat it up a bit with the guys on our tour. They were on a year long tour of Australia, New Zealand, and South East Asia. They made us jealous, especially the fact that they were heading back to their home, Paris, when it was all over.

After lunch, we went to a nearby river to try out some bamboo rafting. The traditional rafts were exactly what they looked like . . . just a bunch of bamboo tied together. They floated just below the surface and were powered by the drivers who pushed against the riverbed, tree stumps, or rocks. I was helping to drive by standing on the rear of our boat and almost went overboard a few times (I think our driver was trying to dump me on purpose). It was alot of fun, though. I was able to take some pictures of the next group passing by when we finshed.

Well, the trek was a great success. We ended our night with a fabulous dinner at a classy restaurant on the river in Chiang Mai. The food here was awesome and we were looking forward to cooking some the next afternoon!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Chiang Mai - Arrival

Well, we made it through the 14 hour train journey - a few hours of sleep and the worst breakfast ever made (didn't even attempt to ingest it). We were happy to finally be off the tracks and in Chiang Mai. A posse of drivers was waiting for the train to roll in. We chose one . . . well, he chose us . . . we hopped in the back of his pickup truck and went off towards our guesthouse.

Our first day in Chiang Mai was a little more laid-back than Bangkok but it wasn't without its adventures. Our main goal was to do some laundry (one backpack + 35oC + dusty tuk-tuks = really dirty clothes), set-up our trek, and sign up for cooking school. We were successful with the above tasks and saw much of downtown Chiang Mai in the process.

We visited a few temples along the way - took a lot of pictures but they're quite similar(on a smaller scale) to the ones in Bangkok so we've only included a few here.

This was amazing. We had to take a close look to determine if he was real or not . . . turns out he's just a life-size, extremely detailed statue of a famous Thai monk. We actually took a photo of a store we found in Bangkok that was full of these statues. See below.

We wandered some more and found another reclining Buddha! Not nearly as big as the one in Bangkok but impressive nonetheless.

Shawna found a Jackfruit - we originally thought it was a smelly Durian (hence the scrunchie nose).

After sorting out our Chiang Mai itinerary we were free to relax and enjoy the evening. We hit up a night market for dinner and some shopping.

We were lucky enough to see a show of traditional dance while we ate our curry and sipped our coconuts . . .

We still had a bit of energy left so we went in search of the Kawila Muay Thai stadium that we saw on a flyer earlier that day. I really wanted to see a Thai kickboxing match so, needless to say, I was more than excited when I saw the run down old stadium full to the brim with Thai people betting and yelling at the boxers. It was a really cool experience . . .

I was mainly focused on video footage of the match so the pictures are a little lacking (I keep promising some video - it will happen!). The boxers came out and did the traditional dance before the match. While they were fighting there was traditional drum and reed music played live by the ring. Adding to the excitement were the people screaming and cheering everytime a punch was thrown. Big money going down on these fights, I'm sure.

Well, it was late and I was happy so we hopped a tuk-tuk back to our guesthouse and got in some sleep before our big trek the next day - hiking, hill tribes, elephant riding, waterfalls, bamboo rafting . . .