Monday, 30 June 2014

buddhas and ladyboys

After our cook school endeavours, we were in need of a little culture and rambling around. We hopped in a taxi bound for the edge of town and the ruins of the ancient city Wiang Khum Kham, and spent the morning being driven around the little excavation sites by a wrinkled driver and a tiny horse and carriage.  

The surrounding forest was a wall of insect sounds and bird calls, and the dense air was fragrant as ever. 

There are around 10 cleared sites and about 40 more thought to be lying undiscovered still. They're though to be from the 13th century, before the King at the time moved the capital to the less flood-prone Chiang Mai.   

We barely saw another soul, apart from an old man shooting a fish in the river with an air gun, and some drummers practicing in an empty open air restaurant.  

Just as Machu Picchu did, it made me wish for a good movie set amongst the ancient civilisation who settled there. 

 Story time. 

In the evening we headed out to Kantoke Palace in search of the traditional ceremony, kantoke, presented to honoured guests in past times and involving food and lavish entertainment. It proved a little empty, and we were beginning to get creeped out by the ratio of staff to guests and the gauntlet they formed around the door. "Wait" someone said, "What if we're dinner..." 

But the food and cocktails showed up and so did the beautiful dancing and swordsmanship displays.

We decided to seek new delights and returned to the night market square for a slightly more bawdy experience... 

Lady boys!
These performers were just about the most fabulous, sexy and gorgeous women I've ever seen! The show was free if you bought drinks, and turned out to be one of our favourite things.  

I'd been a bit worried it would be seedy or sad, but it was utterly exuberant and joyful. The attitude towards sexuality in Thailand in general seemed so much more relaxed and open than in Japan: to see such a brazen display of glamour and sexiness was kind of refreshing after months of kawaii and, to some extent, infantilisation of women. I love being surprised by the endless ways of expressing gender and identity across the world. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

zip lining and cook school in chiang mai

On our second day in Chiang Mai, we decided to head out to the jungle surrounding the city. While we'd looked into elephant sanctuaries, the only really ethical ones are booked up months in advance, and our last minute planning left us high and dry (we did see a lot of very sad looking elephants toting tourists up the roads through the trees). Instead, we gave zip-lining a try. And we were somewhat nervous ^^  

It was a beautiful way to see the landscape from the tree tops and speeding 500 metres across waterfalls and ravines! 

And it proved to be only mildly terrifying in the end. 

Mid-afternoon was spent wandering between a few temples in the centre of town, and dozing in preparation for our evening cooking class! 

Chiang Mai is often called the food capital of the north, and with good reason. I don't think I've ever seen such an abundance of ingredients and flavours. I love Japanese food, but the understated subtlety of a cut of fish, or the texture of a perfect bowl of rice, can't quite compare to the freshness and zing of eating in Thailand. 

We signed up for a class at the Zabb E Lee Thai Cooking School, run by the awesome Ann. We were picked up at our hotel and taken with a bunch of other eager beavers to the market, to learn about our ingredients. Ann was hilarious and had plenty of anecdotes to help us remember the names and flavours (plus an intriguing story about her ex-boyfriend and current cook school rival...) 

After some shopping we chose our menus an got to work, alternating between cooking and eating all night. The kitchen was perfectly set up for a group. 

Pad Thai

Grinding ingredients for the curry

Thai Green Curry

Tom Yum Kung, my favourite

We also made spring rolls and ate ourselves into a food coma, sipping beer and chatting with our fellow students. As we ate under a bamboo roof a sudden, violent thunderstorm passed over; lightning crashed and water coursed across the pavements. Afterwards the air was fresh and the city smelled like a jungle - so atmospheric. The cook school was one of the best things about our trip, so definitely check it out if you're in Chiang Mai!