Back to Bangkok for a Final Feast

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Jan 182010

Chiang Mai (January 18, 2010)

Our drivers were well on their way to Bangkok by now, so we took the hotel’s dilapidated van to the airport — after a quick bite of congee and fried noodles from the hotel’s breakfast buffet. Security at Chiang Mai International didn’t require shoe or laptop removal, and no one cared about the weight of my backpack. Thus, the lines moved swiftly and we had plenty of time to watch (but we could not really hear) the telecast of the Golden Globe Awards, and to check out the local English-language paper. While our 747 was packed with passengers, the Thai Airways cabin crew was very efficient and dispatched a snack and hot and cold beverages with a smile. I’m fairly certain this was my first creamed spinach sandwich (if that’s what it was), and it wasn’t bad. I passed the time by reading Buddha, by Karen Armstrong. I’ll probably have a better chance of finishing it this week or on the less hectic Southern trip. Whether I personally will be any more enlightened seems doubtful: extinguishing the ego sounds like hard work.

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Jan 172010

Chiang Mai (January 17, 2010)

We departed at 8:00am for our visit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, located at the top of a nearby mountain where, legend has it, a white elephant chose the spot for the temple. It is said that if you didn’t visit this temple, you didn’t visit Chiang Mai. Despite the hyperbole, it’s an unusually cool temple. And there are some really good restaurants nearby.

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Ancient Art

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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.

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Jan 152010

Chiang Mai (January 15, 2010)

We gathered at 8:00am for breakfast, walking to a nearby street dominated by Chinese muslim merchants. The menu included turmeric rice with a choice of chicken or goat, and a couple choices of noodle soups. The goat was tender and a bit rich, like a beef shank. Even though the rice made it a filling room, we had to try a few specialties from the local market as well. The first was a mysterious pancake with a chewy texture; it seemed to have some corn flavor (consistent with its yellow color), but must also have contained wheat or rice to account for its glutinous quality. The flavor was pleasant, but the accompany falafel-like balls with a sweet-hot red dipping sauce were much more impressive. Flavored with fresh herbs and fried up light and fluffy, we could have eaten another order. For dessert (yes, with breakfast) we shared the local roti which, mercifully, did not have as much sugar and sweetened condensed milk as the ones in Mae Hong Son.

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Cashectomy, Phase I

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Jan 142010

Pai (January 14, 2010)

Many of us awoke to the sounds of men partying in the dining room until 1:15am and cats yowling at 1:30am, but we managed to get through the night on the resort’s hard beds, survived the showers of variable warmth, and made it to the breakfast buffet for a choice of chicken fried rice, chicken fried noodles, pork meatball porridge, and Western items. The fruit still wasn’t very good, but one light meal probably is a good idea. After all, we have plenty of snacks in the vans.

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Jan 132010

Mae Hong Son (January 13, 2010)

Departing the Fern Resort is always a bit of a production. Kasma has been staying here since the “hill tribe girls” were teenagers, and these long-time employees wanted to look sharp for their photos (some coming in much earlier than their usual shifts). After a lot of smiling for the cameras in different configurations, we piled into our vans and headed out. We will miss the nicely designed bungalows and well landscaped grounds. And the smiles.

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The Northwest Frontier

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Jan 122010

Mae Hong Son (January 12, 2010)

We returned to the noodle shop for breakfast, and today’s options were chow fun with a little Chinese broccoli and chicken (my pick), a pork soup with penne-like rolls of rice noodle, or a “Vietnamese breakfast” of egg over easy with many different kinds of pork sausage. On the side we had khanom krok with either spring onions or corn kernels sprinkled on top; steamed buns filled with BBQ pork (savory) and custard-like “cream” (sweet); pork siu mai with a little pile of fried garlic to roll them in; and decadently sweet roti oozing with granulated sugar, sweetened condensed milk, and too much margarine. (I even got a cup of tea to help keep me awake after my 4:30 attempt to call the credit union was thwarted by a lack of signal.)

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The Reluctant Elephant

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Jan 112010

Mae Hong Son (January 11, 2010)

The breakfast buffet featured a mix of Thai and Western items. The papaya was nice, and the fried rice wasn’t bad, but the noodles were a mess. With scrambled eggs and three cups of tea on board, I was ready to head out. On a previous trip, the rafting had been canceled due to poor quality construction, so we opted for a double-length elephant ride. This turns out to be a very long time to look at the same jungle scenery over and over, so I hope they get those rafts fixed next time.

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Temple Day

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Jan 102010

Mae Hong Son (January 10, 2010)

We departed under cover of darkness for the market, but our intended breakfast spot, Royal Congee was closed; apparently the owners were taking a break after the New Years frenzy. We headed over to the nearby noodle shop for its congee: rice porridge with pork meatballs, ginger threads, chopped scallions, and a choice of an egg, organ meats, or plain (I chose the egg). Doctored up with chilli-infused vinegars, powdered chillies, white pepper, and a little fish sauce, it was quite tasty. To completely fill our stomachs, we had some treats from the market, including fried bread, sour pork ribs, a glutinous rice confection filled with smoked coconut, and another glutinous rice confection with coconut shreds on the outside. We were ready to shop.

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Jan 092010

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.

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Cultural Exchange

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Jan 082010

Mae Sa Valley (January 8, 2010)

The temperature was perfect. In 2008, I was freezing our first night here, but perhaps due to the rain, the overnight weather was quite mild, and inside number 39, the clock-thermometer did not dip below 70 degrees.

For breakfast, we returned to our long dinner table, which now had a view of the pleasant grounds. Thin rice vermicelli were stir-fried with Chinese broccoli and a little chicken. The flavor improved considerably with the administration of some chilli-infused vinegar and powdered dried chillies from the communal bowls. Fruit platters followed the noodles. This was fairly light by our standards, but we would be eating again shortly, so it was not wise to stuff ourselves.

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Storm Chased

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Jan 072010

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.

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Jan 062010

Sukhothai (January 6, 2010)

Our day began in a small corner shop with a bowl of richly flavored noodle soup featuring a single chicken leg. This is light eating by our standards, so there probably will be some snacking on the way to the ruins. We made our way to Sukhothai Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that houses the most significant temples of the first Thai kingdom. Beginning with Wat Mahathat, the central temple of old Sukhothai, we visited four different temple sites before retreating to our air conditioned vans and heading out of town.

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Jan 052010

Ayutthaya (January 5, 2010)

After a simple breakfast at the hotel buffet, Kasma related some of the history of the Thai kingdom when it was centered at Ayutthaya. We also discussed our itinerary for the day, which in its essence was: ruins, shopping, temple, ruins, shopping, snacking, ruins, ruins, ruins, drive, lunch, drive, snack, drive, hotel. Unless I missed something.

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Traveling Back in Time

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Jan 042010

Bangkok (January 4, 2010)

Our early morning getaway began under cover of darkness around 5:45AM. We were split among two vans, and unfortunately we became separated. Our driver in the second van is actually a mechanic, so he is not as familiar with the twists and turns of Bangkok as would be ideal. Directions came by mobile phone and from locals on the streets. One road we turned down had giant humps, large enough to hide a vehicle, far too frequently. Snoozing dogs barely looked up from the edge of the road as we desperately tried to escape the city. Eventually, we made it to the highway and caught up with our fellow travelers. We would arrive at the floating market about 20 minutes later than planned, but at least we would be together.

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