Sukhothai (January 7, 2010)
When we met our vans to head out to breakfast, we found a few raindrops on the windows. As we consumed our bowls of delicious duck noodle soup under the awnings at a sidewalk noodle shop, the skies opened. We enjoyed snacks from the market, including khanom krok and tasty little pork sour sausages (made sour with fermented rice), hoping for a break in the rain. We skipped the usual leisurely market walk and dashed around for just the essentials: duffel bags and liquor. As we left town, we could not resist stopping to watch a parade. Each different school or student group seemed to have its own color and theme. Some carried traditional flower decorations, while others had banners or signs. The photos will be a bit blurry due to the low light, but hopefully a few will turn out. A final detour to a coffee shop and we were on the road for the long drive to Mae Sa Valley.
Lampang (January 7, 2010)
The popular temple Wat Phra That Lampang Luang would have to wait until after a lunch of Chiang Mai-style curry noodles. Thin, flat ribbons of egg noodle and a couple of small chicken legs were covered with a broth flavored with yellow curry. The soup is served with tart pickled greens, fresh shallots, and a couple lime halves for those that like a little more sour to their curry. For heat, Kasma recommended the roasted chilli paste, but I decided to go more mild this meal. Dessert featured another soup, this time of sweetened coconut milk filled with gelatin-like dark green noodles (derided by critics as “gummy worms”) topped with shaved ice. Obviously designed to cool even the most savagely burned palate.
We were at the temple only a few minutes when the sprinkles began. After about half an hour, the pleasant cooling effect gave way to a serious soaking as the rain really started to come down in earnest. Without bright sunshine, the temple really did not show to its best advantage, so we put away our cameras and bundled back into our vans for the drive to Mae-Sa Valley Resort. Along the way, we discussed possible songs to sing in our cultural exchange tomorrow evening with the girls from the Hmong village. So many silly ideas, but would the group go along?
Mae Sa Valley (January 7, 2010)
Located West of Chiang Mai in Mae Rim, the road through the foothills is lined with tourist attractions, from botanical gardens to cobra wrestling. A bit further up the road, the view changes to the pleasant terraced rice fields and verdant gardens of Mae-Sa Valley Resort (and, for the record, Crafts Village). When we stayed here in 2008, I was in room 41 or 42, which was like a child’s room compared to the majestic room 39 in which I find myself now. With views of the beautiful, misty landscape in three directions, richly multi-layered tropical décor, a large porch, and even a small air conditioner, this is a major upgrade. Wow. I can forgive the lack of a hand towel under these circumstances.
Before dinner I met two of our group for Sangsom over ice by the pool. The setting is picturesque, and as dusk fell, a member of the hotel staff came and lit a candle for us. We shared some mildly squid-flavored rice crackers and chatted about light topics like national health care reform. Mist faded to darkness, and no one else joined our little party; were we too loud?
Dinner was served at a long table just outside the dining room. The opening salvo was chicken with chopped green beans in a bright red chilli sauce; it was slightly hot and slightly sweet, with an edge of bitterness. An unconventional hot and sour seafood soup paired shrimp and fish balls with loofah squash and pumpkin. Next up was another variation on Northern sour sausage, with pickled onions and a side of vegetables. This morning’s sausages were firm and contained a significant amount of rice. These sausages, by contrast, were almost all pork and plush in texture (I think cartilage may have been added). We had a light and slightly boring crystal noodle (bean thread) salad with pork, squid, shrimp, and the fungus known in Chinese restaurants as tree ears. Chunks of fried fish were glazed with spicy red sauce and tossed with crispy grachai (looks like holy basil). Finally, mixed vegetables arrived in the traditional mild Thai oyster sauce. That was a lot of food, but not so much that we couldn’t have seconds on the sour sausage. The resort finished with an attractive fruit platter featuring green guava, papaya, cantaloupe, watermelon and pineapple.
Thus sated, we returned to the topic of songs and dances for tomorrow evening. Much work to do there; rehearsal should be fun.