Our second destination of #ThaiCation was a week in Chiang Mai. The perfect place to stop after busy Bangkok and it's 9 million inhabitants. The capital of the Chiang Mai province was moved in the 15th century and the new settlement was dubbed Chiang Mai meaning new city (very original). This gem of a city lent itself to easy day trips, with lazy evenings poolside, and only a few hiccups along the way.
Our first night we went to dinner at Pak Dang, boasting a 10 minute drive by car from our hotel and a drool worthy menu, it sounded like a slam dunk. We set off in a red truck (the preferred mode of transportation in Chiang Mai where 5-15 people pile in the back of a pickup truck that is indeed red) and it stops along the way and drops people at various locations. We showed the driver the name of the restaurant and looked to his face for any hint of recognition. He nodded and motioned for us to hop in the back. 30 minutes passed of us driving on the wrong side of the road down busy side streets narrowly missing pedestrians, scooters and the occasional dog. We knocked on the window to the front of the truck and raised our hands in the hopefully universal, "Do you have any idea where we are going?" sign. He smiled and nodded. When we hit an hour in what was supposed to be a short 10 minute drive, we were silent in the back bumping up and down on quieter streets. We were no longer downtown, the neon lights, graphics and hooker-esque women on the street hinted that we might have landed in the seediest part of the city. Our driver looked very confused, pulled over, and walked off to a payphone. Who knows who he was calling at this point. He came to the back of the truck gave us the thumbs up and off we went again. Let's just say a language barrier in this case lead to blind faith.
Thankfully we sputtered to a stop about 20 minutes later, in front of a sign for Pak Dang. We still have no idea how he found it. Once seated, beers were ordered all around as we sat in silence and decompressed. The laughter set in once we realized that we were finally safe and had just been on a cultural tour of the entire city. Live music (Thai's love to sing American oldies without knowing all the words, it is amazing) and a few more drinks were had as we settled into the night. We learned "pak dang" means red lips or spicy lips- and used the phrase often in our next weeks as we upped our spice tolerance game.
Cooking class with Yui (u-ee)! Green curry, pad-thai, and Tom-yam-goong were all whipped up on bunsen burner-esque cooking stations.
Pad-thai success! If you are ever in Chiang Mai A lot of Thai cooking school is a must.
Built in the 14th century Wat Chedi Luang, was an afternoon pit stop. Filled with Novice Monks in university, this temple is bustling with students and is a good snapshot of the old world and new world colliding.
Added bonus of stopping by during a "Monk Chat" was having the opportunity to sit down and attempt to ask a few questions to some new friends. **Note the awkward distance between us and the monks, there is a strict no touching rule that we were clearly paranoid of.
Looking the part. We booked a tour through Click and Travel and puttered around at our own pace, naturally stopping for lots of selfies. Our guide Mae was 25 and spoke incredible English, which made the tour so fun. She was really the first person we met to whom we could ask questions and know that she understood us! We wandered through small towns, temples and feasted in the afternoon on delicious Khao Soi, a regional dish only found in northern Thailand. It was just the break from the city that we needed. Fresh air and a good leg stretch!
The gorgeous Ranchamankha Hotel was our perfect little haven in the city. I am surprised there were no tears when we had to check out.
Makes me giggle every time I see this one and how perfectly posed that giant creature is (please forgive our outfits). We were thrown up on an elephant with zero safety warnings. Thailand is VERY lax on all things that the US seems to deem as necessary precautions. The small camp where we spent our day had a hut with a working toilet and that was about it. Our lunch of pad thai was made on a small wok over a fire by a large bellied man named Stumpy. Everything about this day was hilarious.
Next stop the islands on the Andaman Sea...