Chiang Mai

15 04 2013

Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second biggest city, with a decidedly laid-back college feeling to it. It has a huge old city in the center of town that still has some of the old gates and walls from ancient times.  Much of the old city now is populated by guesthouses, moto rental shops, and restaurants for tourists. Between the cool coffeehouses, though, are some pretty interesting pagodas. There seemed to be more than a dozen wats within the old city walls, all of which had slightly different styles and historical significance. We rented bikes and saw eight or ten of them, thoughtfully comparing them to each other and to Cambodia’s. We thoughtfully discussed the pronounced Chinese influence in Chiang Mai’s pagodas vis a vis Cambodia’s pagodas, then hurried off to lunch.

After a couple taste bud-awakening days in Bangkok, we were slightly disappointed by the food in Chiang Mai. Having a guesthouse in the main tourist area certainly didn’t help, but a near-constant flow of fresh smoothies kept appeased us between less than spectacular pad thai and curries. The Saturday walking street offered enormous crowds, great Chinese dumplings, and greasy crepes.

One of our favorite temples

One of our favorite temples

Chiang Mai is known as a jumping off point for elephant trekking in the north of Thailand, and Katie and I had to choose between cooking classes and elephant riding. Knowing we can ride elephants in Cambodia, we decided to stay focused and make this vacation about food. We went out to an organic farm outside the city for an all day cooking class. We each made five dishes including, marinated chicken in pandanus leaves, papaya salad, tom yum kung, chicken coconut soup, pad thai, yellow curry, green curry, chicken cashew stir fry, pumpkin pandan custard and mango sticky rice. We had a blast cooking and eating for six hours, comparing different recipes and spices.

Making pad thai

Making pad thai

Our last day, we headed up to Chiang Mai’s most well-known attraction: Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. The temple is situated on a small mountain overlooking the city. The winding road up the mountain in the back of a pickup truck was enough to give us wobbly legs as we started up the temple steps. The wat complex was impressive with a smoggy view of the city below.

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Overall, Chiang Mai was a relaxed place to hang out and ride bikes for a few days. We were able to meet up with some other PC Cambodia volunteers and compare traveling stories. After a few days, though, we were ready to hop on a plane and hit the beach.
-Tim

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