Though we were sad to leave our new friends in Laos, we were happy to be returning to a land of better food. From our short time there, Laos hadn’t turned out to be our favourite country in the end, so we chose to hop back to Thailand and check out the north.
We spent two lazy days in Chiang Rai where we bicycled around in search of good eats. We both felt exhausted from our time in Luang Namtha so it was nice to have no set agenda and no desire to see anything touristy. We kicked off our first meal back at a little Thai Muslim joint that we had to cross several scary multi-lane streets (almost highways) to reach. Thankfully we were rewarded with a kick-ass meal of super flavourful beef and chicken curry sided with fresh roti canai. Yum-my! We also tried our first Khao Soi the next day and had a fan-friggin-tastic road side plate of mango sticky rice, the one dessert which we had sorely missed since Bangkok. There was a colourful night market in town that we explored one evening, not to be mistaken with the night bazaar which itself was a pretty big let down. The town is pretty small and has its own character, but didn’t really blow us away. But that suited us fine as we enjoyed our vege time and watched many a crappy movie in the comforts of our big bed and air conditioned hotel room.
Two days in Chiang Rai was enough for us, and so we headed next to Chiang Mai. Expectations were high for this city, which is often on people’s favourite places lists. We spent 4 days there, mostly (you guessed it) biking around and eating. It’s definitely a city with many different neighborhoods and facets. There seems to be a large ex-pat community living there so you find a lot of places catering to a more Western & European clientele. Lots of big hotels and shopping malls can be found as well (which we always appreciate for times when we need an a/c or bathroom break!) But at the same time we enjoyed some other really awesome places like the Gat Luang area, which is an old working class neighborhood that has a distinct and endearing character to it that we loved. The area contains several day markets with vendors selling just about anything you need, as well as an awesome night market filled with food. It just felt like the kind of place where people really knew each other, with many family businesses having been there for ages. We ate some memorable meals in that area, including some fresh crispy morning cruellers served with hot soy milk for breakfast, a yummy curry and fishball noodle soup with all-you-can-heap herbs and some tasty street meat on a stick. Chiang Mai is definitely a city that loves to eat, so we managed to visit several great night markets reserved only for street food. One of our favorites was the Prathu Chang Puak on Sri Chum Road. We ate some spectacular khao kha moo (stewed pork shank) served by an awesome lady wearing a cowboy hat, and re-visited some old favorites like mussel omelette and radish cake, sided by a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Yum! We also had a much more superior version of the local specialty, Khao Soi, at one of the more famous vendors in Chiang Mai called Lam Duan (see the cover photo) which also had yummy pork sate and Northern Thai Sai Ua sausages. Needless to say, we were thrilled with all the food options the city offered!
There was a lot to do and see in Chiang Mai in addition to eating, so we tried to take advantage. We took a Thai cooking course where we got to cook and then eat several classic Thai dishes. The course itself was probably not the best one out there (sort of a lazy instructor who didn’t always show us all the steps and everything was mostly pre-cut for us) but we still had a lot of fun. Jesse got to make a massive flame under his wok which extended as high as his head! We also made the trek up the Doi Suthep mountain that overlooks the city to check out the Buddhist temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and see the views of the surrounding area. On that particular day though the view was a bit clouded with smoke due to it being the slash & burn agriculture time of the year, but it was still a nice trip. On our last day we rented a motorbike and did the lovely 100 km Samoeng loop out and around the area. Getting out of the city was a bit stressful as it was our first real highway experience by motorbike, with the cars and trucks weaving in and out of lanes quite erratically. They drive on the left in Thailand as well, which makes things always a bit trickier. Thankfully once Jes skillfully got us out of the city, it was back to our usual single lane, mostly empty winding mountain roads which we enjoy so much more. We were surprised to see a large number of monks walking along this road, which must have been absolutely exhausting due to the heat and lack of shade. I suspect they make that trek quite often, but I definitely didn’t envy them at all. We made a few short stops on our ride, once to purchase a bag of freshly picked local strawberries (the only place in Thailand that grows them!) which were surprisingly sweet and tasty. We also checked out the Mae Sa waterfall at a nearby national park that had about 11 different waterfall sections all filled with Thai families or couples having picnics and splashing about in the water. We were pretty sad we didn’t bring our swimsuits with us!
On our last evening we were lucky to be able to check out the Wui Lai Saturday night market before we left. They basically shut down several blocks in town (conveniently just a few blocks from where we were staying) and vendors and artisans of all sorts line the streets. Unlike the night market in Luang Prabang which was all tourists, this one was jam-packed with locals and tourists alike, all shoulder to shoulder trying to negotiate their way through the maze of stalls. There was a lot of live music being played as well, and just generally had a great vibe to it. We pigged out of all sorts of foods, and really enjoyed just people watching around us. It was a great way to end our stay in Thailand.
Chiang Mai lived up to the hype, and definitely satisfied our need for good food. It was great to return to Thailand after a few months away, and we were a little sad to have to say goodbye again!
Actual travel dates: March 12 – 17, 2013