Chiang Mai seems to have evolved for tourism. Days do not start too early, so visitors can remain awake through the wee hours. Shops, restaurants, and even temples cater to those who need a souvenir of their journey. Still, we would try to stick to the high quality attractions as much as possible.
We stopped in at the hotel buffet only for caffeinated drinks (Lipton tea from a spigot, in my case) and sufficient food to buffer our stomachs, then set out for a restaurant operated by Chinese muslims on a nearby alley featuring numerous muslim businesses. In past years, we browsed the market here, but time is tight so we just had a quick breakfast. We sampled broadly from the menu: turmeric (yellow) rice with a choice of beef or chicken; curry noodles (khao soy, or Chiang Mai style noodles) with a choice of beef or chicken; and babasoy, a chewy noodle made from brown and white sticky rice in a savory broth with a choice of beef or chicken. Sadly, no goat today, but the khao soy with chicken was good. This made up for missing the curry noodles on Monday.
Chieng Mun is the most historically important of the temples in the old city of Chiang Mai, it has two very old, very small Buddha images behind bars. There also are a lot of elephants in the construction of the chedi, and a fairly fancy sequence of life-of-the-Buddha paintings inside the chapel. A picturesque stop, but just the beginning.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is situated atop a hill overlooking the city of Chiang Mai. (Sadly, you can barely see Chiang Mai through the fog and smoke.) Legend has it that a small relic of the Buddha was attached to a white elephant who climbed up the mountain, circled this spot several times, then trumpeted loudly and dropped dead. Where else could one possibly build the chedi to hold the relic? And thus, this enormous complex of chapels and shops was born. Thais from all over the country make pilgrimages here, and the temple offers not only beautiful buildings, but blessings and fortune telling, a bookstore, and musical recordings. Near the bottom of its 300 stairs are shops carrying the sacred and the profane (though not as profane as the night bazaar if you see what I mean).
On my last visit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, children were performing to raise funds, so today was quiet by comparison. A monk did splash water in my direction during a blessing ceremony, but the camera was spared. A vendor of woven bracelets made from thin strands of colored bamboo did a brisk business with our group. But… what would I do with those?
Lunch at Kaeng Ron Baan Suan Restaurant
This restaurant on the outskirts of town is a nightmare to reach during rush hour, but easily accessible from the temple. We stopped in for yet another feast of Northern specialties. Pork was again the star, appearing in two kinds of sausage (spicy Northern sausage, sliced on the bias, then deep fried, and sour sausage, cubed, then briefly crisped in the fryer); hunglay curry with pork belly and a particularly gingery flavor; crispy pork rinds with a spicy green chilli relish for dipping (and raw vegetables to manage the “heat”); and “Thai chop suey” with crystal noodles (mung bean threads) and a notable bamboo shoot flavor. Since we do not live by pork alone, we also had long green eggplant stir-fried with basil, fruit salad with hot and sour dressing and dried shrimp (same style of preparation as green papaya salad), and crispy fried chicken wings. And after all that, dessert. I was able to eat pretty vigorously, so I think my stomach is almost completely back. Nevertheless, a little restraint would do me good.
Wood Carving Museum (and Shop)
What can I say about these three dimensional wood carvings? The intricacy, the care, the bare breasts and elephant genitals. This museum has it all. In the end, I could not find a piece I wanted badly enough to brave the challenge of getting it home. Maybe next time.
We slimmed our luggage to one checked bag so that we could fit within the restrictions of domestic flights, and wished our drivers luck with the rest of our bags. We will see them in Bangkok tomorrow. I kept the bottle of tequila, hoping to polish that off tonight. With assistance, of course.
Dinner at KhanToke PrimPrao
Without a van, we couldn’t easily go out to any of the nicer places around town, so we ambled halfway across the parking lot to an antique teak house on stilts. A restaurant has opened in this previously underutilized space with a unique business model: a fixed menu, a single seating, and a show. While they usually serve the dinner “khan toke” style with cushions on the floor, Kasma insisted on tables and chairs, so rather awkwardly, we alone had elevated seating at the back of the single-room restaurant. Also, they usually start serving at 7:00, which makes for a long evening when the show runs from 8 to 9. Kasma scheduled our seating for 7:30, so we only had a 30 minute wait to see the show. Unfortunately, the food wasn’t held at serving temperature after 7:00, so not only wasn’t it up to our usual standards, it was barely warm. Oh well, it still might be the best thing withing crawling distance.
For each group of four or so, the restaurant started us off with a basket of breaded fried banana slices. We’ve had many sweet appetizers, but it’s rather odd the serve dessert first. Baskets containing a small plastic bag of lukewarm sticky rice arrived next, and then small serving bowls of four courses: a mildly spicy green chilli dip and a spaghetti-sauce like mild red pork chilli dip accompanied various mixed vegetables and deep fried pork rinds; hunglay curry pork; fried chicken; and mild vegetables cooked with chicken. A large bowl of steamed rice also was provided. Our favorite was the fried chicken, but this was mostly because the other dishes made a poorer showing. I snuck a shot of tequila to dull the psychic pain as the show began.
Drumming, dancing, audience interaction; the show wasn’t going too badly until about mid-way through, the lights came up. There were several rounds of singing Happy Birthday to a woman in a large group and then some of her coworkers got up to present a gift and give a speech. This went on and on, and afterwards there was a steady stream of audience members escaping. Distracting both for the entertainers and for those of us in the back. They really should start the show earlier so everyone can stay all the way through — and minimize the speeches.
Markets and Markets
We ourselves rushed out before the last act and headed a couple blocks down to Anusarn market. I picked up a couple of long and narrow mango wood serving trays that have a fascinating grain in the wood. We then turned the corner and traffic slowed to a crawl in front of a row of Thai “ladyboys.” Ranging from drag queen to transgendered, the ladyboy category runs a broad range and here the showgirls were posing for pictures with tourists and promoting their upcoming show. Rather than wait half an hour, however, we continued shopping.
One of our fellow travelers caught a glimpse of Southern Thai shadow puppets in a booth on the sidewalk in the heart of the night market craziness. We chatted with the vendor from Nakhon Si Thammarat, which is where I’ve purchased my buffalo hide (or cow hide) carvings, but my price memory is terrible, so I don’t know the markup here compared with there. Buyer and seller seemed happy at the end of the transaction, however, so that probably means the ultimate price was fair. It was time to pick up one last bottle of green tea for the morning and call it a night.
Tomorrow we fly back to Bangkok for one of our most important shopping stops: the upscale Aw Taw Kaw market is a fantastic source for GABA rice, crispy jackfruit chips, and other snacks. And then there will be the mad repacking of all our purchases to fit within airline guidelines. May this night be restful; we’ll need it.