Chiang Mai makes me think of peaches – the light is soft and delicately fuzzy both in the morning and at night. I love walking around the old city’s narrow roads lined with climbing vines and strung with lanterns. Luckily the young backpacker stops seem to be grouped together so they are easy to avoid. I never tire of seeing the monks’ turmeric coloured robes and smooth brown heads weaving through street life. We are on the edge of the old city but the little alleyway behind the hotel is filled with a multitude of perfect little spots. A massage parlour with two giant fish tanks to slip your feet into and have the dead skin gently nibbled away, a vegan bakery with endless cookies and loaves all suitable for my little “zert” (dessert) addict, a vegetable market, a smoothie stall, endless cello bags of pre cut fruit (the end of chilled precut fruit is going to RUIN me when it goes away), the most delicious pad thai and Tom Yam soup and a laundry that washes, dries and folds for $1.20 a load. Yes it is a magical land where food, body rubs and cleaning are all taken care of.
Our next little adventure after elephants was a cooking class – I have been super keen to learn more about the Northern Thai foods but it was a little bit of balancing act to find a course for us all and in the end we went with a private course with the hope that Sabine wouldn’t annoy people and that I could also ask as many questions as I would like. I also liked the way this course seemed to be designed – a market trip and then a train ride to the country and then bicycling to an organic farm where we cook en plein air. It all sounded great.
It was surprisingly easy to get us up and down to the breakfast room by 8 – our guide was to meet us at the hotel a 8:30. Suddenly it was 8:45 and no guide – immediately I have the sinking feeling that I have done something wrong – date? time? – finally we find our guide in the lobby wandering around and we are off. He whips us down the alley beside our hotel to the market. We haven’t ever been there at 9 am and it’s packed – packed with people taking cooking classes and getting the run down on ingredients. There are little clumps of people eagerly staring up at someone holding thai basil or galangal limply in their hands and explaining it’s uses. Some of the guide/chefs are in chef jackets with the name of the school embroidered on the breast, some are wearing aprons but our painfully thin guide is wearing a hoodie and ill fitting jeans (you could just call them trousers they were so bad). He is speaking very quickly and really giving us the bums rush through this portion. Then after I question about bergamot (which to be honest was not in any of the recipes we were to cook that day) he explains that we need to hurry or we will miss our train. That’s fine – I can question him later. We hop on the train – similar to the one we took to Hua Hin, all open windows and seventies colours. There is big patch of garden growing in between the tracks and it turns out it is the station master’s garden. We meet a strawberry farmer on the train and buy some beautiful strawbs from her – she tells us that strawberry season in Thailand is from January to October. We tell her strawberry season in Canada is from June 1 to June 17.
We arrive at our little station in the country to find a row of vintage bikes. The company had promised that Sabine could ride in her own little seat attached to one of the bikes and this turns out to be the flat back spring loaded carrier we all had on the back of our ten speeds in grade ten. There are no guards on the wheels so it will take no time for her to put her toe in and flip the whole thing right into next week. Chris ends up hoisting her onto one knee and off we go – across a four lane freeway and onto some, thankfully, rural roads. The organic farm is run down and is no longer a working farm. We get a tour anyway and there are still some remnants to show. Then it’s time to cook and I am very skeptical but at least it’s pitched perfectly for Anderson. He loves all of it and most of all he loves eating it all. We cook a dish and then eat and then relax and take a break…. all to keep being able to eat. It’s a lovely relaxing day. I do learn of a new vegetable – baby eggplants – they look like really big peas.
The next day Chris is sick so I strike out alone with the kids. I decide to take them to POOPOO Elephant paper – where paper is made from elephant dung. This park was the bomb! The guides were amazing and it was all very hands on – we cooked up the poo (large dried haystacks that do not smell at all!) then put it in the cutting machine added dye and spread it out on screens to dry in the sun. Then we got to make some passport holders with the paper.
Chris continues to be knocked flat with a horrible cold that has some flu like symptoms including fever and chills. Not fun. So after a little background checking I decide to take them to Tiger Kingdom. I was wary because it is essentially a zoo where you can climb into a cage with a tiger and pet them. What could go wrong right? I mean it is Thailand – known for it’s safety – just hop on your scooter without a helmet and bomb down the highway with your nine month old in a bucket dangling from your handle bars and then mosey into this tiger cage. It checks out from various sources as having a big educational aspect as well as providing excellent care for the tigers who have been born into captivity and would not survive the wild. Our dollars go to keeping them in excellent care for their lives as well as providing veterinarians the chance to learn all there is to learn about caring for tigers. So we hop into the back of a pickup truck with no seat belts or door and head out on the highway…. looking for adventure and tigers. When we get to the “kingdom” we are informed that Sabine is too small to go and see any tigers. Tears ensue. Treats are promised and before you know it Anderson and I are hanging with the most beautiful white Bengal tiger cub. Well actually two white bengal tiger cubs to exact. One is very frisky and really wants to play with us. The trainers distract her with some huge kitty toys and we get to snuggle with the boy who is feeling lazy in the late afternoon heat. It was very exciting, thrilling and a little terrifying – I couldn’t get myself to actually hug the tiger – because I’m not a maniac but I did manage some petting.
That was a wrap on Chiang Mai – we indulged in an other family foot massage and some fish pedicures. Well I couldn’t bring myself to actually put my foot into the fish tank but Chris and Anderson did and loved it.
Next up is a three night homestay with a family in a Karen Village in the northern mountains. I am feeling a touch apprehensive (surprise!) and so is Anderson – change and the unknown and all. Plus three days feels like it might be excruciating although it will provide so many opportunities for Chris to charade. I have no idea what to expect – running water? Electricity? Cold temperatures up in the mountains? Spiders?!!! Long awkward silences?