After Bangkok and the beach, Lauren and I headed north to Chiang Mai, a city that utterly enchanted us. With its vibrant glowing street markets and ancient crumbling temple ruins, the city kept our jaws dropping and our cameras clicking. We stayed on a street that was filled with tiny boho art galleries, Thai coffee shops, tea houses, and secluded temples (including this one that was apparently dedicated to dogs). Not only was the courtyard filled with statues, there were real dogs wandering everywhere that seemed to have found a safe home with the monks.
Would have been my favorite temple as a child, hands down.
Chiang Mai is known for its many temples. Each one is brilliant, stunning, and entirely captivating in its own way. Some are secluded and out of the rush (like the dog temple) and some are buzzing with activity. In some there are monks chanting. In some, not a soul is present. At each one I told myself not to take too many more pictures, but I couldn't help it. Here's a handful to give you an idea...
Novices (young boys training to become monks) trying their best to be still and pay attention.
After taking so many photos of temples, I really didn't think there was anything else I'd go quite as snap-happy over. But then came the magically-light, food-packed, music-filled Sunday street market. On Saturdays and Sundays, the main street in Chiang Mai is blocked off to cars and jam-packed with pedestrians. Street musicians come out to entertain and sell C.D.'s or raise money. Food vendors fill street-side courtyards with every Thai treat you can imagine (sticky rice with mango, Tom Yum soup, fried everything, cake-wrapped bananas on sticks, fruit smoothies, fried quail eggs, curries, banana leaf-wrapped mystery treats, etc.) And vendors of every imaginable trinket and accessory display their wares, from spices to scarves to carvings to knock-off RayBans (proving that Thailand is very up-to-snuff on hipster culture).
After seeing so many enthralling things, I really didn't think our visit to Chiang Mai could get any better. It did. The morning we arrived in the city, Lauren and I just happened to walk past a vegetarian restaurant on the way to our hotel. We came back in the evening to check it out. The food was drool-worthy scrumptious and the menu informed us that the restaurant offered cooking classes. Bah! We barely had the patience to finish our meal before signing up. We got to choose 9 dishes from the menu and spend 5 hours with the chef learning how to prepare them. It was, without exaggeration, one of the best days of my life.
So much fun to cook when you have a kitchen staff preparing every ingredient for you!
The chef, Lauren, me, and our lovely classmate, Minda.
We made these! But, don't get your hopes up. As it turns out, one of the biggest secrets to fabulous Thai food is fabulous Thai ingredients that may prove impossible to find in the U.S. Another one of the secrets is having your own personal chef standing beside you telling you whether you're putting in too little or too much of any given ingredient. The exchanges would go something like this:
Chef: "One teaspoon mushroom powder."
Me: "This much?"
Chef: "More! More!"
Me: "This much?"
Chef: "Haha! Too much. Little less."
Me: "This much?"
I don't have high hopes for success at home, but I'm excited to try. I'm already telling myself that if the dishes don't turn out the way they did in Thailand, at least I'll be the only person who can tell :) As our chef was fond of saying - in response to queries like "If I don't have a T-shaped bamboo basket to cook my rice in, can I use a pot?" - "Yes, yes. Same same, but different."