For a small town, Nan has a surprising number of temples, markets, fabric stores, and souvenir shops. Or maybe we’re getting a skewed sample because these are the things that interest Kasma the most? There are plenty of nature photo-ops, but it’s definitely not the kind of trip where you’ll find yourself ziplining through a teak forest. You’ll have to get your kicks in some other way, such as the spicy food.
Like Phrae, Nan was a latecomer to the Lanna Kingdom, the predecessor to Siam, and its isolation from other regions led to unique styles of art and architecture that we will explore for several days.
Having spent too much time online this morning, I could only grab a couple yogurts from the breakfast buffet before we left the hotel. Fortunately, our first stop was the local morning market, where we loaded up on tiny mandarin oranges, steamed savory and sweet coconut snacks, and crunchy pork rinds. It’s hard to go hungry when you travel with Kasma.
Phrae is a little difficult to pronounce, but image you stopped saying the word pretzel before you got to the t, pre-tzel, without the tzel. Got it? Phrae province was once known for its central role in teak production, and throughout the old city you can find well preserved examples of classic teak homes and mansions. Now that the forests are largely protected, Phrae may be better known for indigo-dyed cloth and other textiles, and the visitor cannot miss the large number of temples. During the next two days, we may be removing our shoes more than any other town on this trip.
Our journey North continues, but first, we had breakfast at the Pailyn Hotel Phitsanulok breakfast buffet. This time, I resolved not to be late, so I would not go hungry as we explore the local temples. But perhaps it would have been better to miss: the rice porridge had cooled, so when I poured it over the fried egg with still wiggly whites, it failed to finish the job of cooking the egg. Oh well, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
Today is the official first day of the Northern Frontiers trip. After only one meal together in Bangkok, we are taking two vans up the highway to Phitsulanok, where we will visit an art museum and a couple of temples on our way to towns where Western tourists are rare. We are bound to encounter some delays and disappointments, since we are the first to test out this itinerary, but since we have all traveled with Kasma before we have faith that even if an attraction is closed or the schedule requires us to miss something, we will never, ever, go hungry.
Everyone on this new Northern Frontiers trip (Online Itinerary) has traveled with Kasma at least twice before. I look forward to seeing a few old friends and making several new ones. But first, since I’ve arrived in Bangkok a bit early, I need to successfully navigate between hotels and manage to feed myself once or twice more.
Today I will devote myself to eating excellent Thai food around Bangkok. And it must also be an amazing value, so I’m continuing to work my way through “Thailand’s Best Street Food.” Diversions happen, but I will not go to bed hungry. (Not that I remember the last time that happened…)
After five trips to Southern Thailand and three trips to Northern Thailand, it turns out I have barely scratched the surface of the Land of Smiles. This year, our Thai cooking teacher and friend Kasma Loha-Unchit will guide us through a part of the country seldom visited by Western tourists, where the the Buddhist temples, museums, parks, fresh food and craft markets, hill tribe villages, and Thai cuisine have a distinctive local flavor. Off the well-trodden tourist trail, we can expect to have our limited knowledge of the Thai language, and our facility with squat toilets, tested in new ways. We’ll miss the beach, but look forward to new adventures.
I awoke before my alarm (at 4:22) and still, I was adding strips of tape to my box in line at the check-in counter. In part, I was running late because I needed to make a fast walk up the street at 8:00 to get one last order of khanom krok. Food first? Some things never change.
This is my seventh trip, so tonight will be my seventh finale feast. Each one has been a bit different, but on at least two occasions I ended up on stage. This year I plan to sit back and let the newbies be the stars of the show. At least that’s the plan.
After a few bites of breakfast at the buffet and a few final minutes on wi-fi, we loaded into a couple of vans and headed to the Chiang Mai airport for our flight South to Bangkok. Our day looks easy on paper, but the best laid plans do not always work out in practice.
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 left Chiang Mai under cover of darkness for the hill tribe village of Mae Sa Mai where a dozen Hmong tribes would gather for the big festival day. As we wound our way up the hill, a man stopped us in the road well before the village explaining that all the parking already was taken two hours before. So much for being early.
After my usual routine of passing out fully clothed, a few hours later I awoke to find myself still much too full. My body seemed to be rebelling against eating ever larger quantities. I would need to take a break.
We would bid farewell to chilly Pai and brave the twisty highway to Chiang Mai, the major city of the North and a magnet for handicraft shoppers. Like us. In past years I’ve snuck out to a local restaurant for karaoke one night after dinner, but with our unusual schedule (Tuesday we rise before dawn to drive to the Hmong village of Mae Sa Mai for the New Year celebration) I don’t know whether that will be possible this time.