Chiang Mai

Our second to last stop in Thailand, Chiang Mai is a love / hate thing for me.  On the one hand it’s an awful expat place full of very stereotypical westerners, on the other we’ve had some great experiences and fantastic food there.

The City

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Chiang Mai has a bit of everything.  We started each day with some Chinese style steamed buns for breakfast and had coffee down the road in a small Jazz Cafe chatting to the owner who runs it just because he wants a place for his friends to play music.

We went to a gigantic night market and found the best soup of the trip (Jo still talks about it) and the fastest smoothie I’ve ever seen.

After days at a meditation retreat (I’ll come to that bit later!) we stopped at a McDonalds and had a Samurai Burger.

We found a jazz club and drank the night away with a couple of retired Canadian guys  we had the first hangover of the trip.

We found a giant open-air Buddha in a roadside temple and watched the stars one evening.

Cooking Class

First day in the city we are settling in to our AirBnb.  Jo is trying to find a good cooking class while trying to keep her phone in the one square millimeter of good WiFi signal in the place.  She suddenly jumps up as there is a cooking course just down the road who have emailed her back and they have a couple of spare spaces on a course, now.

We race down the road and join, and it’s great that we did as it’s fantastic.

Thai Akha Cooking Course

It’s from a hill tribe called the Akha, and includes a couple of dishes from the tribe alongside a selection of Thai dishes.  We sit in a couple of groups waiting for everyone to turn up, drinking tea and getting to know everyone on the course, including a chef from Spain who is traveling around Asia looking to find local dishes to help him expand his culinary expertise.  We are then led through cooking each dish, what the spices are and a bit of background on how the tribe live.  Thanks to Jo’s inquisitive nature she grills the chef (pun intended) and we find about how the Thai’s balance chili, salt (from fish sauce), sour (from lime) and sweet (from sugar) to create their food which we then put into process in our future dinners.

Phra Singh Temple

Music Museum & The North Gate Jazz Coop

Just down the road from our AirBnb a smell of coffee and the light rhythem of Jazz wafts out onto the pavement from the music museum cafe.  A great place to stop for a coffee and enjoy a long chat with the owner who has set up a place for friends to come and pick up an instrument and play some music.  I don’t know which blog post it was, but one was written here.

And then we found the other great spot for Jazz in Chiang Mai, the North Gate Jazz Co-op – with local bands playing late into the night and beer that doesn’t cost an obscene amount of money.  This place caused the first proper hangover of the trip – good times 🙂

Chiang Mai University

We didn’t mean to end up in Chiang Mai University.

The story starts at our favorite soup stall in the Northern Gate Market, or more specifically walking around afterwards.  Jo suddenly panics that she can’t find her phone.  Usually this involves a brief scrabble in the mess she calls a bag and an ah-ha moment but after a while it looks like it’s genuinely gone this time.

She’s convinced she has been a victim of the infamous SE Asia bag thieves.

We race back to the market and have a look around the table, it’s not there.  Jo is ready to start asking people if they have it:

Jo ready.

But before she starts shooting up the place, we compromise on calling her phone first, then she can start flipping tables.

A Chinese student answers the phone, she’s somehow found it and taken it home for safe keeping.  Her English isn’t the best but we finally manage to understand that she’s living just outside of Chiang Mai University, which is the other side of the city.  We agree that we will grab a taxi to the Uni and meet her there.

So we flag down a taxi and drive 40 minutes across the city to the Uni, past the imposing looking security gates and down into a beautiful park-like campus.  We try phoning Jo’s phone again but struggle to arrange a more accurate meeting point than “The Uni” – it’s a bloody big University.

At this point we illicit the help of two Thai students who have set up a little badminton net in the carpark to help us translate.  Jo seems overly happy that they offer to help us – I’m pretty sure I have some serious competition at this point.

We end up in a long conversation, with the two Thai students trying to explain to the Chinese girl where we are – at one point he hands us the phone so we can talk to his parents, who have better English and we get them to translate to him what happened so he can then use his knowledge of the Uni to explain to the Chinese girl (who doesn’t speak Thai) where we are.

It doesn’t work, he ends up kindly driving away with my finance on the back of his moped to go and look for the girl leaving me awkwardly sitting in the car park with his friend (who doesn’t speak a work of English) wondering if I’m going to ever see Jo again.

A long time later (or at least, it seems like a long time) they arrive back in the carpark phone in hand.  Turns out they meet the girl at the end of the road and spend most of the time trying to calm her down as she’s burst into tears with emotion that she’s finally managed to return the phone.

Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

Art in Paradise

Wat Phan Tao

Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan

Mindfulness Retreat

I can never remember the name of this place (incidentally it’s Wat Suan Dok Buddhist University) so I Google the name of the teacher, Phra KK – because he’s got such a personality everyone remembers him.  He’s version of an explanation of how Monks put on their robes is to jump up on a raised platform, strip half naked and proceed to show us how complicated it is to wrap up in robes (Thai style, Laos style is much easier, as we are shown.)

We arrive at the temple in Chiang Mai and get an explination of what is about to happen, we are going to be taken to a retreat outside of the city, we are going to be taught 3 types of meditation (sitting, walking and laying) we will have a room-mate for the night and we won’t be allowed to talk for most of the time we are there.

The course is fantastic, we start with an hour of meditation before which Phra KK explains what we are doing and how we should do it.  Throughout the time he’s encouraging people on and helping people stick through it.  We then move on to the walking meditation, which involves walking slowly in lines, while focusing on the act of walking, how your legs move, how the muscles work together to move you around and how your balance moves.

We then break for dinner (put on for us ‘baby meditators’ as he calls us, as Monk’s don’t eat after mid-day) then have another hour of meditation before turning in to sleep.  Around the meditation there is free time, which is designated for…..more meditation, but outside in the garden, which is lovely.

The next day we are woken by a gong at 5am for more meditation which lasts all morning, then we break for a Q/A session with a group of Monks.  It’s a big group and the conversation is dragged between one guy obsessively trying to get tips on how he can improve his technique and a couple of guys trying to argue down the monk’s that Buddhism is a religion.  Their stand-point is that it isn’t, most of the religious style worship you see in temples is Thai superstition, Buddhism is about finding the middle-way.  We got more from chatting to monks in temples later on, but I guess there is only so much you can get with 20-odd people talking to 3 monks…..

After that we have a little more meditation – including this time a session of laying meditation, aka trying to focus as a half-dozen people snore around you, and another session with Phra KK explaining the background of Buddhism and the famous robe-demonstration.

All in all it was a fantastic experience, a gentle introduction and a fascinating insight into monk life.

There is a ten day course for those who want the full on treatment, that involves 10 days of complete silence, 8 hours of meditation a day, no food after mid-day and you can’t even look at people.  We haven’t attempted this yet.  We know people who have though.

Elephant Sanctuary

Elephants!

If you read the literature online about Elephants in Thailand you get the message to stay away from the ride-an-elephant places.  There are alternatives through, there are elephant sanctuaries that go out and buy abused elephants from the ride-an-elephant places and give them a home, a lot of the time giving them treatment from the abuse they suffer.

You can really see it, there are friendly elephants here you can touch and feed but there are elephants here who are really not friendly towards people after how people have treated them.

It’s a great place run by people that care.

Next post we head off to Chiang Rai, then hit the slow boat into Laos.

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