Chiang Mai (Feb 24-27): Dragon Stairwells and a Thai Cooking Class

It actually felt a bit cold when we got off the train in Chiang Mai (pronounced Chung My) at 7:15 Sunday morning. I had looked up a Grab and it said that it would cost 60 baht to get to my hostel. However, as soon as we stepped outside of the station, there were SO many people trying to get us to take a taxi with them (they must prepare for this moment everyday). Abbey had heard about red taxis being cheap and when approached by one, we asked how much it would be and they said 50 baht per person ($2.18AUD). I decided to come along, and she led us to the red taxi (which was a songthaew), which already had about 8 people in it. We squished in with our bags and they dropped me off first. They missed the turn though, so I still ended up having to walk a bit to get to my hostel. I was staying at Mapping Hostel for 99 baht/night ($4.41) in a 6-bed mixed dorm! The price was so low, but it was also located about a 30-minute walk away from the city centre. However, it was extremely quiet and was on the edge of the river, so it had a really relaxing vibe to it. It even had some tents set up next to the river! I obviously wasn’t able to check in because it was before 8am, so I paid 20 baht (89 cents) for a coffee, and found a place to sit next to the river.

I sat for an hour and read some of the brochures about things to do in Chiang Mai. The amount of elephant companies around Chiang Mai is so overwhelming, and now the big selling feature is that no elephant rides are given. However, many of them still take their elephants on daily mud baths, swims, hikes, and expose them to multiple people each day. It’s very difficult to know which companies are ethical, and whether you want to support any of them, especially when most of them are minimum 2400 baht ($106.90). I decided to take a couple of days to ponder, and looked up other things to do in Chiang Mai. I found a self-guided walking tour, so I wrote Abbey and we made plans to meet at the front gate at 10:30. We decided to first go for an early lunch since I still hadn’t eaten any breakfast. Many places still weren’t open, but we ended up going to a restaurant called Cooking Love, which was rated really high when I looked up “Cheap Eats Near Me” on Google. We decided to try the Khao Soi, which is a northern Thailand specialty. It’s a yellow curry noodle soup that’s topped with dry (crunchy) noodles, and it was absolutely delicious!

Honestly, it’s the best Khao Soi that I’ve had so far (and I’ve had it every day for three days after that). When I chatted with Abbey a few days later, she said exactly the same thing. Actually, by the time we got our food (at about 11:30), the restaurant was completely full and they were telling people to come back in a half hour, or in an hour. So they must know what they’re doing! I got a dragonfruit smoothie to go with my Khao Soi and everything cost me 140 baht ($6.11). After lunch, Abbey and I started our walking tour! There are over 120 temples in Chiang Mai, so the one that I found online (see here) was helpful in limiting it down. There were two main things that we noticed about the temples here that we’ve never seen at many temples before: 1) In pretty much all of the temples, they had dragon arm rails going up the steps, which were pretty cool! And 2) The zodiac signs were really popular here, and they often had all of the animals on the temple grounds. All of the temples were spectacularly shiny, and I couldn’t capture it at all in the pictures, so everyone might just have to go and see them for themselves! We started at the Three King’s Monument, which shows the three men who built Chiang Mai in the late 1200’s. We then headed to Wat Hua Kuang, which was beautifully adorned with gold.

We walked to the White Elephant Gate and Wat Kun Kha Ma (Golden Horse Temple). Then headed to Wat Rajamontean (Dragon Temple), which was another really beautiful and shiny temple.

Wat Lok Molee was more unique in that it was entirely built with wood and it had surrounding gardens, which was extremely beautiful!

We sat in the shade for awhile because the heat started getting to us, and then we continued on our way to House of Success, a hotel that was built in 1993 but was vacant for 20 years because it had bad feng shui. It was just opened in 2017 so it is a relatively new building in the city.

The walk to the next set of temples was about 20 minutes so we stopped at a roadside stand on the way and got some cold drinks. The next few temples that we visited were a lot more busy since they were closer to the centre of the city, but I didn’t think that they were nearly as nice as the other ones that we had seen.

By the time we finished our tour, it was 4pm, which was when the Sunday Night Market was supposed to begin. We decided to get another cold drink (they’re vital in this kind of heat!) while we waited for everyone to finish setting up for the market. By this time, both of us were starting to lose energy from our lack of sleep on the overnight train (and likely because we had also been up walking around for over four hours) so I got an iced coffee in hopes that it would wake me up. At 5pm, we decided to check out the Sunday Night Market. It only happens in Chiang Mai once a week and the stalls go down the street for over a kilometre, so there’s lots to see! A lot of it is handmade and local, unlike many of the tacky stalls that you see in many other markets. I quickly started feeling lightheaded so I got steak on a stick for 50 baht ($2.18) and then just enjoyed looking at all of the unique things to buy.

At about 6:30, Abbey and I decided to call it a night – I think both of us were looking forward to going back to our hostels to relax. I stopped at a restaurant called Bamboo on the way back to my hostel for dinner, and then went back to the hostel.

On Monday, I did a cooking class! I woke up and had a coffee, and then waited for the company to pick me up at 8:20. The company that I chose to do the course with was called Asia Scenic Cooking School and they offered a half-day course (to make 5 dishes) and a full-day course (to make 7 dishes). They also offered to do the class in town, or on their farm. I opted for the full-day course in town, which cost me 1000 baht ($43.63). After we all registered, our teacher (Nune) needed to find out what each of us wanted to make. For each course, there were at least three options so we each got to make what we wanted. She took us into the back garden and gave us different plants to smell and taste.

We walked to the nearby market (Sompet Market) to see some of the spices that we would be using. Nune gave us 20 minutes to look around on our own, and then we headed back to the school. Our first dish that we could make was a noodle dish and I decided to go with the classic Pad Thai (because you can’t NOT make Pad Thai while at a cooking school in Thailand!). This was probably the most difficult dish to make because you had to work quickly so that your noodles and eggs wouldn’t get mushy. We started at the cutting boards, where she would tell the Pad Thai people what to cut up, and do the same for the other two dishes. Then we all went to our own wok and stove, where she first did a demonstration, and then told us what to do step by step.

It was actually delicious, although I’m not sure I’ll be able to recreate it at home! We then got to make our own spring roll, which is an art in itself. I mangled mine when I cut it in half, but at least it still tasted good.

Our third course was a soup, and of course I chose Tom Yum. This was the only dish that I didn’t love, which is weird because Tom Yum is my favourite. Maybe I didn’t season it correctly because it seemed to be lacking something.

The last two things we had to make were 1) the curry paste, which would then be used to make 2) the curry. I was going to make a Massaman curry until I tried the Khao Soi the day before, so I decided to make Khao Soi instead. To make Khao Soi, we had to make a red curry paste, so we first had to cut all of the ingredients into tiny pieces and then use a mortar and pestle to mash everything up.

We then made our respective curries, and mine ended up being five-star! Definitely the second best of all the Khao Soi’s I’ve had.

It was 1pm so the half-day people were done, and our group went from 12 people to 4. Actually, one of the couples were French and didn’t speak a lot of English so I ended up having to translate some stuff for them. Words were easily coming out of my brain that I didn’t even know were still in there! It was reassuring because I had so much difficulty remembering French before, but I think it was because I was always under pressure or felt judged. This way took all of the pressure off, so it was a lot easier. We were given a half hour break so I walked around for a bit. Then we only had two dishes left to make: salad and dessert. We started by making dessert and I chose mango sticky rice. Then we made the salad, which for me was papaya salad. Again, we had to use a mortar and pestle to mash up all of the ingredients. We got to eat the two dishes at the end, but I was so full!

I decided to have the mango sticky rice because it was so good, but I couldn’t finish the papaya salad. At the end of the course, they gave us recipe books with everything that we had made, so now I can try to make everything at home! However, finding all of the ingredients might be a different story… I got dropped off at the hostel, did my laundry, and relaxed for a couple hours before walking to a different night market. I went to a restaurant called Kat’s Kitchen, which was completely full and already had a line-up out the front. I only had to wait about ten minutes, and luckily was seated because the line kept getting longer and longer. I ordered a Massaman curry with rice, and a melon smoothie for 115 baht ($5.02). The food was a bit of a wait because all dishes were individually made by Kat, but it was definitely worth the wait! The only thing that I didn’t like about this restaurant was the locals knew how busy it was, so people kept coming to the tables trying to sell things, or giving out flyers.

On Tuesday, I got up and had a coffee beside the river while doing some major relaxing. My plan that day was to go towards the Doi Suthep temple, where there was supposed to be lots of hiking trails. I wanted to grab lunch first so I stopped at a restaurant nearby and got basil rice with an iced coffee.

Then I started walking. The thing that I love about Grab is that it gives you a price and that’s what you pay. The problem with the red taxis is they give you whatever price they want and oftentimes, you end up getting ripped off. I was determined to walk as much as I could to avoid having to pay for any taxis, so I headed towards the main gate in hopes that there would be some taxis going to Doi Suthep (which is about 30 minutes outside of the city). Luckily, I ran into a tourist information centre on the way and they told me I could get a taxi from either Sompet Market or from North Gate and it should cost 50 baht. I walked towards Sompet Market (which was likely about a 40-minute walk total) and when I got there, the guy said that I’d have to wait for other people to join because he wouldn’t take just me. He said that I’d probably have better luck at North Gate, and his friend offered to take me there for 50 baht. Nope, I’m good! “But it’s 2 kilometres, you’re going to walk that whole way?” Yup, I was planning on it! It was actually only 1 kilometre (15 minutes) away but as usual, they were trying to use scare tactics to try to persuade me to buy. After about five minutes, another red taxi pulled over beside me and I asked for Doi Suthep. She replied 500 baht.. What?! Absolutely not! But then she started saying 50 baht and then 40, and I don’t know how I logically thought that she meant she’d charge that to go to Doi Suthep. It’s probably because she kept saying “Doi Suthep – 40 baht.” So I got in and she ended up dropping me off pretty much across the street, where the North Gate was (I could have easily walked there in less than 10 minutes). I took out 40 baht and she said, “No, 50 baht. Doi Suthep – 40 baht” (even though there’s a sign there that clearly says Doi Suthep – 60 baht). By that point, I was just angry so I took out 50 baht, gave it to her, and went to the sign. There were five people already waiting but they wouldn’t leave until we had 10 people. They were charging 60 baht each way, so 120 baht total ($5.24). (By the way, I know I sound like a Scrooge when I keep saying that I had to pay extra, when it’s really only 50 cents more, but that’s the mentality that you get into while you’re here. Anything more than 100 baht seems too expensive!). After about 10-15 minutes, we had nine people so they said that we could go. We got in the back of the songthaew (with everyone sitting on the side benches) and got on our way. This was the first time in my life where I actually started to feel car sick. There were twists and turns the entire way to the temple, and they didn’t slow down so we were leaning back and forth the whole way up. Looking at everyone’s faces, I think everyone was feeling pretty sick. We got there at 3:30 and the lady said “Come back at 5, and you pay when we get back.” I was still in a bad mood from getting ripped off twice and only getting an hour and a half to explore, which wouldn’t give me enough time to try any of the hiking trails. The devil in me was contemplating not showing up at 5 and likely saving money because I’d only have to pay for the way back. However, I just couldn’t do it (good thing I have a conscience) and I decided I’d just go back at 5. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed with Doi Suthep at all. Maybe it was my already bad mood, but I think it was because I had already seen much nicer temples. I had to pay 30 baht ($1.31) to enter, but it was so loaded with tourists, so I didn’t spend much time there.

I found a coffee shop and ordered an apple soda while I waited for 5pm to hit. Surprisingly, everyone except one person came back at 5pm (which our driver seemed pretty upset about) but then they found two MORE people so we were even more squished in the back this time. I was towards the front so it wasn’t as bad as sitting in the back, but I still couldn’t believe how they did those turns! I started walking back towards the hostel and found a restaurant called Lucky Too, where I ordered a Khao Soi and banana smoothie for 100 baht ($4.36). This one was alright, but I think the one I made was better. I then spent quite a bit of time checking out the night market and then went back to my hostel to order my bus to Pai for the next day. There were signs that said 200 baht all over town, including in my hostel, but then when I asked the hostel owner, he said that they don’t do trips anymore. I didn’t really understand why but it sounded like the company that they worked with hadn’t been reliable. He said that I could book it on my own – I’d just have to get to the bus station, so he told me what I’d have to do the next morning. And that’s exactly what I did on Wednesday! Love always

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