Jan 162010

Chiang Mai (January 16, 2010)

We gathered at 8:00am to walk the extensive morning market, snacking on various “breakfasty” items along the way. Our first stops were at street carts selling khanom krok and grilled sour sausages on a stick. Next up were fried bananas, fried yams, and Thai-style waffles, followed by coconut pancakes, yam balls, and slices of spicy sausage with strong herbal flavors. At one corner we had an opportunity to sample some fried bamboo worms, silk worms, and other creatures. The worms were not very tasty; the beetles and other leggy beasts looked too disturbing to eat. I couldn’t help thinking there was so much great food that no one should feel any need to eat bugs.

Inside the covered part of the market, we visited mushroom, dried fruit, and spice vendors, and then proceeded around a few corners to a sort of wholesale market for hill tribe bags and clothing, and then to a clothing store. Across the street was a kitchenware store with the typical bowls and serving sets used in restaurants. After having our fill of both food and shopping, we hailed a local minibus-style taxi — it looks a bit like a red pickup truck with a tall shell housing two benches along the sides of the bed — and returned to the hotel to drop off our purchases.

Long pants were required today because we visited two temples in the historic heart of the city: Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chiang Mun. There are several subtle differences between the Buddha images in Chiang Mai compared with the other cities we visited, but at some point it becomes a blur. Wat Chiang Mun sells antique Buddha images with papers clearing them for export, but I was not sure I could take care of one as intended: there’s a serious chance it would end up in a box of souvenirs, and that would not be right. I think it’s better if I take only photos. Cheaper, too.

We headed to the outskirts of town, to Hangdong, where we would visit a wood carving museum. But first, we had lunch at a local noodle shop. I had the usual hot and sour noodles, dry style, with fish in various forms. These noodles were not as slippery as the ones in Bangkok, so it was a bit difficult to get everything mixed to my liking. The other house specialty, khao soy (curry noodles), came in a broth with a strong Indian curry flavor, which is characteristic of Shan curry. I could have ordered a bowl to supplement my hot and sour noodles, but for once I decided not to eat a disabling quantity of food: we had a long afternoon ahead.

Baan Roi An Phan Yang is a museum housing the extensive personal wood carving collection of Charoui Na Soonton. Some of the carvings are stunningly intricate, with multiple layers of people, animals, or foliage carved into planks or logs several inches thick. The house is jammed with rare works of art and whimsical design details, and the shop showcases a number of spectacular items. I was drawn to a delicate carving of the earth mother, and to a round piece depicting a herd of elephants layered one on top of the next. At $300 and $450, these were a well out of my range for impulse purchases; maybe next time.

We dined at the popular restaurant Baanrai Yarm Yen. We were seated above a garden. While it was too dark to see much, a huge jet of water rose to our level and crashed back down into a fountain. From the other side, a duo performed live music, and from a third side another fountain burbled. There was just a lot of sound. Our first course was sour pork ribs; this must be one of Kasma’s favorite Northern dishes. Other items were less familiar: a fried fish was blanked with fried lemongrass shreds and served with a hot and sour dipping/spooning sauce; a salad of young jackfruit contained shreds of vegetation completely unlike ripe jackfruit, and occasional pickled flavors; a tasty salad of tamarind leaves with shallots sported a somewhat sweet dressing and crumbled pork rinds; and a delicious “mixed” curry of crystal noodles and pork belly mimicked the flavor of a combination of different types of leftover curry. The final dish, a curry of a leafy green and dried fish, did not do anything for me.

After dinner, I visited an internet place to do some work that I couldn’t do using a slow cellular connection. Around 10:30, I met up with three trip members at GuitarMan, which says it is Chiang Mai’s #1 Jamming Bar. I don’t think I have ever been to a club where the musicians invite strangers up to play with them, and in most cases, the bands and visitors were really good. We were especially impressed by Jesse Jordan from South Africa, whose renditions of Pride and Joy and Give Me One Reason, were electrifying. It would have been fun to stay longer, but I’ve got to try to catch up on sleep and I could return tomorrow on our last night in town. Might even be able to get in on the fun…

Tomorrow we visit the North’s most significant temple and have our last shot at the night bazaar.

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