Mae Sa Valley (January 9, 2010)
After another pleasant evening, we checked out of our beautiful rooms and met for a breakfast of sour sausage fried rice and a fruit plate. The resort staff let me recharge my phone in the dining room, and reminded me to take it with me when I started leaving without it. They seemed very appreciative of our visit. We headed down the winding driveway and back toward Chiang Mai.
More Textiles (January 9, 2010)
Our first stop was at the Pa-Da Cotton Textile Museum, a showcase of natural production techniques for handmade cotton fabrics: not only is cotton grown, combed, and spun on site, the workshop grows its own plants for dyes, including annato, indigo, and various flowers. Unconventional weaving methods lend a rustic quality to some of the pieces, while others are diaphanous and elegant (with prices to match). From napkins and scarves to bolts of fabric, the gift shop offers something for everyone, and of course we lent our support.
Mae Sariang (January 9, 2010)
After a couple hours of hilly driving, we rolled into Mae Sariang, the first major town in Mae Hong Son province. Here we would have a lunch of local specialties at Restaurant Intira, which was good, and I would discover that my ATM card recently expired, which was a serious bummer. Shopping may be much more limited than anticipated.
The most unusual dish probably was a hot and sour pig knuckle soup with a powerful lemongrass flavor, long shreds of oyster mushroom, and various chewy and bony bits of pork. Pretty good and very hot. Other dishes included thin slices of bitter melon stir-fried with egg; salty pieces of deep fried fish served with a spicy-sweet Sriracha sauce for dipping; a plate of mini-shiitake mushrooms with oyster sauce; and their locally renowned hot and tasty basil chicken. For dessert, we passed around the rest of the box of Chinese buns filled with sweetened mung bean paste and a bit of golden duck egg yolk.
Just up the road, we turned into a side street and after several turns arrived at a shop featuring Karen (pronounced more like “gurieng”) fabrics fashioned into everything from coin purses and placemats to spectacular pullovers in bright colors with lots of dangling things. Taking into consideration my newly discovered poverty, I did not see any must-have items here. We settled into our vans for a long twisty drive.
Mae Hong Son (January 9, 2010)
Several kilometers short of Mae Hong Son town, we turned off for the Fern Resort, a self-described eco-resort developed on the terraced grounds of former rice paddies. We were enthusiastically greeted by the staff (who seemed to remember me from two years ago) and one of the omnipresent house dogs. My bungalow here is airy and comfortable, with a plainer and less quirky design than my bungalow at Mae-Sa Valley Resort: the writing desk is more practical, but the bathroom design is a bit less handy. Despite the regular “clonk” of bamboo cups in the streams running through the property, it is very peaceful here. (Especially because my phone doesn’t get a signal!)
For dinner, we headed into Mae Hong Son town to the Fern Restaurant. Despite the common ownership, the town restaurant historically has offered significantly better food than the resort’s restaurant, justifying the drive. The restaurant, indeed the entire town, was jammed with tourists. (It is the weekend here, and many Thais are in town; at the Fern resort, we also have many European visitors.)
The first plate to arrive was the delicious northern specialty of Hunglay curry pork. (It seems very similar to the dark, slightly sweet spicing of massaman curry beef, and also includes peanuts, but Thai cooking is all about the details, and there are plenty of differences.) Our vegetable dish was, appropriately, ferns in a light Thai oyster sauce. A larb of tilapia, tumeric fried chicken, and hot and sour chicken soup filled out the menu. Of these, the chicken was best loved by our group: who can resist perfectly cooked pieces of fried chicken, even with an unconventional flavor? We will dine here again the next two nights, and I am looking forward to it.
Although the sidewalk on the main street opposite the restaurant is wall to wall vendors, we will have no market walk tonight: we have to leave the resort at 6:30 am to hit the congee shop in the market before the Thai tourists. G’nite!