Friday, February 21, 2014

Makha Bucha and my personal homage to Chiang Mai

Makha Bucha is a national holiday.  That means NO SCHOOL!!!  You don't understand.  There are no Monday holidays in Thailand, no long weekends.  The thought of having enough time to really get away is a priceless gift.  And, since I don't have classes on Thursdays, I took the day off and treated myself to 4 whole days in Chiang Mai!

In case you're interested in what the holiday is about, a short description, courtesy of wikipedia:

It was 9 full months after the Buddha got the Enlightenment, on the full moon day of 6th lunar month, 45 years before the Buddhist era. On the full moon day of the 3rd lunar month, Makha, of the year, 4 special events happened:
1. There were 1,250 Sangha followers, that came to see the Buddha that evening without any schedule.
2. All of them were "Arhantas', the Enlightened One, and all of them were ordained by the Buddha himself.
3. The Buddha gave those Arhantas the principles of the Buddhism, called "The Ovadhapatimokha". Those principles are: - To cease from all evil, - To do what is good, - To cleanse one's mind;
4. It was the full moon day.
Another important event, which happened on the same days (the full moon day of the 3rd lunar month) 44 years later, the last year of the Buddha's life, he decided to 'Parinibbhana', nirvana, leave the mind from the body or die. 3 months after that day (on the full moon day of the six lunar month -- we known as 'Visakha Bucha Day').

I feel like a regular at the airport.  I now know that I can pack anything in my carry-on, but if I'm bringing a gun, I have to first remove the bullets.  I also know that if my luggage is weighed and exceeds the limit, the very friendly attendants will ask if my computer is in my bag?  Of course, that is why, and then let me go.  There will be no lines when boarding is announced, just a general group that moves forward as one.  The hostesses will say good evening because I am clearly a farang, but when I respond in Thai, she will immediately say something sweet in return (however, I have no idea what it is that they say). A kind Thai will help me put my overweight carry-on in the luggage compartment, and ask Bai Nai?  If there are children around, they will shyly say "hello", and then hide their face.

My flights are seldom more than an hour.  Of course, traveling one hour southwest to Bangkok, to fly one hour north to Chiang Mai, seems excessive when clearly, if someone would reinstate the direct flight west from Ubon to Chiang Mai, the trip would be quicker.  But, after all, it's only one hour.   And I get the pleasure of repeating the same ritual in Bangkok as I board my new plane.

So, there I was, 10PM at the Chiang Mai International airport, ready for new adventures. A great taxi driver filled me in on everything I needed to know for the trip in April during Songkran, and deposited me at my hotel.

Thursday I had the day to myself and thought it would be a good opportunity to get familiar with the city so I could show Hillary around when she arrived on Friday.

Having left my specially purchased Chiang Mai map and my Lonely Planet back in Ubon, I set off with the map from the back of a brochure.  About 3 hours later, I realized I was totally lost until I saw the train station.  On the bright side, I now knew where I was.  On the down side, it was quite far away from the city, and there was not a taxi in sight!

I made my way back, got a bona fide map at the tourist office, ate at a Chinese restaurant, and bought a Seagram's Mojito at the 7-11(yet another mistake).

Hillary arrived at 6AM the next morning.  Things were looking up!  After breakfast, we headed off in the right direction (exactly opposite of the way I had gone), and found the "old city".

original walls, built for protection

  The moat that surrounds the city.


Food vendors outside the park.

the clock tower in the park

It's not uncommon to see vendors carrying baskets of food like this.  This particular woman was selling eggs.
Thais eat A LOT of eggs.

beautiful dragon in the park

father and daughter enjoying a picnic

And by the eastern most gate, students were practicing Thai dance.  Boys as well as girls are enthusiastic about keeping this tradition alive.

They bend their fingers in the most unusual angles!

Upon entering a temple, we were greeted by this woman offering birds.

The birds are not to keep, the idea is to release them from their straw jail
to ensure a lucky and safe journey.

It was a little difficult getting the straw basket open.

Lots of gardens and flowers around the city, and of course, the chedis!

Hillary and me pausing on our way through the hanging vines.


We stopped for a little lunch...

Butterfly Pea Flower tea….

dim sum

and back to the business of exploring.

This shop had a real hippie vibe to it.  The owner painted the background fabric,
then added a quote and picture to accompany the quote.

“Good friends are like stars.... You don't always see them, but you know they are always there”

a  painted rock portfolio as well

And then we wandered into the local market area….

overwhelmed by so much to see and so many twists and turns, we did get lost


But finally, the night bazaar!!!!

What struck me most was how colorful everything is.  It automatically lifted your spirits and put me in a buying mode (that's really not hard to do).

hand carved wood

hand painted hair clips

more wooden utensils

those silly hats (yes, Jan, I know you bought one!)

towels, scarves, cloth

silk ties with matching cufflinks

loved these bags made out of leaves… they are 100% waterproof (good for Songkran)

working up a thirst…. we had been talking about coconut milk most of the day

watching the crowds


and since we walked all day, we had to try the fish tanks….


100 Baht for 15 minutes to let the fish nibble the dead skin off of your feet.  Yes, I know it's very touristy, but we had to try it.  I would say it is well worth the 100 Baht, my feet were very soft when we were done.  Be prepared, the fish not just tickle while they nibble away, ever now and then a larger one gives a pinch!

huge shrimp/prawn
and giant squid


And more beautiful children!!!!



I want to bring him home <3

Time to get a good night's sleep.

Saturday was COOKING CLASS day!!!!



materials all set up and ready to go… cutting boards, rice steamer, baskets for the market!

Making decisions… what should I cook?

I will find this cup and bring it home. 

first thing… learn about rice.  lower bowl is unhulled, top left is jasmine, top right is sticky rice

seasonings on every Thai table.. sugar, chili pepper vinegar, dried garlic

making decisions

and off to the market!


mouse shit peppers… seriously

gotta know your greens



types of eggplant

 the one on the right is a Kaffir lime

 types of mushroom.. on the right is elephant ear

large variety of rice!

and dried beans

banana flowers

 home from shopping


and of course, after all that work, it's time for snacks (this is Thailand, after all)

Our new UK friend, Hilary (one L)

Getting ready to make my first dish…fried cashew nut with chicken.

showing us technique


OMG!!!!  I did it. Delicious!

Hillary made fried noodle Thai style

Time to make papaya salad.. Som Tam

Lots of prep work.  I loved the wavy peeler that peeled shreds of veggies.



Hillary checking to make sure she did it right.                         taa-daa...  the final product!

Moving on to the soup dish… Chicken in Coconut Milk


You have to tear the mushrooms, not cut them.

Once the prep work is done, it's a breeze


Another success!

Hilary and Ann only signed up for a half day so we exchanged vitals and said goodbye.

Getting ready to make deep-fried bananas.


We used soy oil because it is a high heat oil, and flavored the oil with pandan leaves.

We went off to make green curry from scratch while someone else watched over our bananas. 


We filled a cloth bag with fresh shaved coconut
 and soaked the coconut in warm water to make coconut milk.

Using a mortar and pestle to grind the curry has to be good for your arms.


Served with rice.

And dessert…. deep fried bananas with coconut ice-cream.  Happy and full.

Saw a sort-of flash mob on the way back..


and ended our most fabulous day with a glass of wine.

I thought I had plenty of time to explore Chiang Rai, but I was wrong.  There is so much more to see and do!  I will be returning, but I had a 10:00 flight to catch Sunday morning.

Another perfect ending….  I didn't realize I had booked business class!


“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” Robert Louis Stevenson