Fell in Love with Northern Thailand
This past week, we had the pleasure of exploring Northern Thailand; more specifically, we adventured throughout Chiang Mai and Pai. Words cannot begin to describe the unique and breathtaking beauty that is Northern Thailand. I guess living in a large city in the way South of Thailand makes you appreciate the mountainous, hilly, green scenery and plentiful fresh air that makes up the Northern regions. There are infinite things to see and do, which made it very hard to squeeze everything we wanted to do into one week, but we did the best that we could!
Chiang Mai was by far the cleanest city I have seen since arriving in Thailand. I have a feeling that’s because it’s an extremely touristy city. I am not exaggerating when I say that the people we saw walking around the city were basically ALL westerners. It is actually funny because during our training course in Hua Hin, we were warned that once we have lived in Thailand for a few months, we would start getting annoyed of all of the tourists. This is very true. We have tried to start avoiding the tourists and touristy spots altogether! It’s pretty crazy how a Thai person’s attitude changes towards you once they realized you live and teach in Thailand. If you’re lucky you may even get the local Thai prices on things like tuk-tuks, excursions and market shopping, rather than the tourist prices, which are basically quadruple the Thai prices. We usually point to ourselves and say, “khru” (teacher). This usually sparks a conversation about where we live, how long we have been in Thailand, how long we are staying and always end with them asking, “you teach me English?” We love practicing our Thai on them and they love practicing their English on us!
In Chiang Mai we explored numerous Wats (temples). The Wats in Chiang Mai are absolutely incredible and are everywhere. Many of them are hundreds and hundreds years old and each of their architecture is uniquely stunning. As our friend Brian quoted, “there are more Wats in Chiang Mai than in a Lil’ John song”. The only thing I wish is that I knew the name of each Wat we visited, but we saw so many that we lost track!
The streets of Chiang Mai also have a lot of character. Among the smaller brick side streets, you see a lot of interesting street/wall art.
One of the things we were told we must do in Chiang Mai was to take a Thai Cooking Class. Erica and myself are extremely glad that we did. All of you who know me, know that I do not cook. I have been fortunate enough to have a grill master of a dad, a Sicilian mom and a Nonno and Nonna (Grandpa and grandma) who have always cooked fabulous food for my family. Somehow, I was too busy eating all of my life to actually learn their cooking techniques. This cooking class was exactly what I needed! There was a small group of us in the class. There was a couple from Barcelona, two friends from Holland and a Chinese man. The Chinese man was quite an interesting man. He felt the need to shove every herb, root and vegetable that we were about to cook with up his nose to get the deepest of smells from it before using it. Erica was lucky enough to be next to the Chinese man when preparing their curry. He was eager to shove her plate of ingredients up his nose before they made it onto her pan. We shared many laughs with them throughout the night, understanding of all of our inexperience. We had an adorable young Thai woman as our instructor and she knew so much cool information about all of the traditional Thai cooking ingredients. We looked at their herb garden and she introduced to us the various herbs, roots and vegetables we would use in our Thai cooking. Before we got to cooking, our instructor taught us about a dish that Thai people always put together for their special guests before they begin eating. It symbolizes the different flavors that make up a Thai dish because the Thai people believe that every dish should balance each of the different senses of taste. These include:
The Herb Garden!
The plate symbolizing the five flavors of Thai food!
We got to make five things. For each of these things, there were several options to choose from.
1. Stir fry – I made hot basil chicken.
2. Spring rolls
3. Curry paste – I chose to make green curry paste
4. Curry – I chose to make green using curry paste I made
5. Dessert – mango sticky rice
Thai people love spicy. They think all westerners are babies and find it funny when we sweat and cry from their food. It is actually a source of entertainment for them. Thai chili peppers are not be messed with. We learned green curry is the hottest of curries because of the type of chili used. I could not put my eye contacts in for THREE DAYS because the remains of those damn chilies lingered in the skin of my fingers (even after scrubbing my hands and fingers raw with hot water and gallons of soap).
Making the curry paste was definitely the hardest. Mashing all of the ingredients so that they would turn into a paste was quite the work out. Another valuable thing that we learned is that Thai people cook with their emotions; there were no measuring cups or spoons used at all. Overall, I was very proud of Erica and myself. We cannot wait to cook for our families at home!
One of the days we went on an excursion to the outskirts of Chiang Mai. The excursion included zip lining, elephant care and white water rafting. Each activity was amazing. The zip lining was insane and worth every second of the Thai guys laughing at my cluelessness of what to do. The group of guys were there to help set up the lines, show us the ropes, and give us horrible pep talks. The elephant care could have been longer but bathing them was adorable and so much fun! Looking into an elephant’s eyes, you just know that there is so much more to them. The way they move, gather, communicate and stare into a human’s eyes is a beautiful thing. For such large, beastly animals, they are gentle and loving. Lucky for us, it wasn’t only bath time for the elephants but also poop time for the elephants. It seems they all like to poop in the river when they get their baths. Erica was the luckiest of all when a piece of poop, the size of a basketball, wrapped around her legs while flowing through the river’s stream. We got to feed the elephants after as well. One thing I have learned is not to wrestle an elephant. I had a stack of 20 bananas that I was meant to hand out to the group of elephants and one mama elephant literally grabbed the entire batch with her trunk out of my arms as I struggled desperately to hold onto them. At least I gave one of them a hefty yummy snack! Lastly, the white water rafting was kind of more terrifying than I thought, but we managed to stay on the whole time! Towards the end of the rafting experience, we switched to bamboo rafts, which were pretty cool until Erica fell through the bamboo.
After our first zip line platform!
No I didn’t get stuck…
Our zip line team!
My elephant for bath time!
It was way rougher than this I promise.
The dangerous bamboo raft.
We also met up with some of our friends from our time in Hua Hin. It was so great to see them! We went on an excursion to Doi Inthanon National Park. Apparently it is listed as one of the “things you must see in your lifetime” on many travel blogs. Unfortunately, it was foggy and rainy, which made it impossible to see all the views. But oh well, we still made the best of it and it was still stunning! There are many things to see in Doi Inthanon National park. It is highest mountain in Thailand and on this mountain are two giant Chedis (two adjacent temples) that were dedicated to the King and Queen of Thailand, beautiful gardens and gorgeous waterfalls. We had a hilarious jokester of a tour guide. Her name was Gang (Gaahng), but she said her friends call her Gang-ster, so we started calling her that as well. On the way up the mountain, we stopped at a town that belongs to a Hill Tribe that has been around for a long time. Hill Tribe land in Thailand are kind of like Native American land in the U.S.
Hill Tribe farmland with Gang-ster photo bombing.
Hill Tribe farmland
These are one of the Chedis. This one is dedicated to the queen.
The highest point in all of Thailand!
Halfway through the week, we took a minivan up north to the city of Pai. It is about three hours away from Chiang Mai. Pai is known to be a chill, hipster town also filled with many tourists. Pai was different from Chiang Mai though; it was much more relaxed and the tourists were extremely friendly and eager to chat. We absolutely adored Pai. We trekked long and hard up the famous hill to see the Temple on the Hill, which has an awesome giant buddha on the top and amazing views of the city. We ate our weight in the many delicious offerings at the night walking market and also stepped outside of our comfort zones and rented a motorbike! Erica and I freaking loved riding motorbikes. It was so much fun just hopping on and hopping off at our own convenience. In order to be Thai, you must ride a motorbike.We rode our motorbikes to many of the must-sees, which included Pam Bok waterfall, the Land Split, Strawberry Love and Pai Canyon!
Some good shots from Temple on the Hill
Beautiful rural part of Pai
Strawberry Love – Which is a strawberry farm!
Pam Bok Waterfall
More of Pai <3
Snacks provided by the gracious family that owns the land at the Land Split!
The land keeps splitting every few years!
Had to get a motorbike snap!
The week flew by but we did some pretty awesome things and made so many more memories. We had a very early flight back to Hat Yai once our week was over. Somehow, Erica’s alarm didn’t go off. Our flight was at 6:45 am and we didn’t wake up until 5:50am. For some miraculous reason, we still made our flight with the only downsides being morning breath, bed hair and overpaying a tuk-tuk because there was no time to negotiate. One thing I know for sure is that I will definitely be going back to the Northern cities of Thailand during my stay here!