I arrive in Chiang Mai Thailand just in time for dinner. One of the teachers I met at the orphanage in Cambodia connected me with her American friend who is currently living in Chiang Mai. And as luck would have it, Nathan is a food blogger whose passion for food has led him all around the world. He anchors here in this lovely city temporarily. We had briefly corresponded but, as with most foodies, we kept it to the point of most importance. “Would you like to meet for dinner?” “yes please” “Any type of food you would like to try?” “Whatever you think is the best authentic Thai in this city” ..”I know just the place!” he says. I truly have golden gastronomic horseshoes up my bum.
Takes me only minutes to get ready and off I go to meet him. A word about transportation here in Thailand. While there are also Tuk Tuks, an even cheaper alternative is a ‘red truck’. Its like a minibus that also picks up other people along the way and takes us individually to our destinations. So off in the back of a red truck the night begins. Nathan meets me at the fountain and we walk not far to a little side road where we will find the small local unassuming restaurant, Cherng Doihat, that he has chosen. On each table is a menu and list of items to check off. And away he checks..”We are going to have so much food I hope your ready.” Oh yes my new friend, I am more than ready. And so the procession of food arrives filling our table with a variety of authentic Thai dishes.
Yum mhoo yang (marinated pork shoulder with coriander, lime, chili) Kai yang nang krob (crispy slow roasted chicken with tamarind sauce) tai crispy papaya salad with fresh lime, chili and fish sauce. Just to name a few…Delicious. And this is what a table looks like after two foodies are finished with a spread like that.
We finish off at a little bar overlooking the lights of the city for some local whisky, Sang Som, and soda, while we exchange stories of our passion for food and travel. Life is serindipidous in that regard-to have this trip culminate towards an ending shared with a fellow passionate food lover was really meant to be!
The next day I hit the streets to explore this city, majestically speckled with shiny golden temples. Im staying in a small boutique hotel in the backpackers district so that I am close to old town. The loghome boutique hotel..very inexpensive, friendly staff and clean little rooms.
Today I head in that direction to find some markets. I fold up the map given to me because, you see, maps are about as confusing to me as algebra. I just don’t have the head for them. Instead I rely on landmarks and my clever resourcefulness of just plain asking people along the way. And that works..typically. But here in this city with streets filled with vendors, massage parlours and motorcycle shops it would seem as though my landmark tactic is ineffective. Still I find the market in old town and now just have to get back. Onto plan B.. I begin to ask random people for directions but funny enough no one seems to know where the hell my tiny hotel is. No one. Even with a street name. I hop in a red truck-the driver speaks zero English but manages to repeat after me nodding “log home boutique”-I assume that means he knows where that is. He stops frequently interrupting the resting tuk tuk drivers who point here and there and everywhere. He then pulls over and gestures me to get out. I pay him and follow his extended arm thinking that my hotel is a few steps in that general direction. I turn around completely and he is gone. And..the hotel is no where near the vinicty of where I stand. I walk literally for an hour in the hot sun asking people along the way..a couple of young Thai girls pull out google map and help me out a little as my map is even more useless to me because in fact I forgot my glasses and it all looks like a blurred ant farm. Finally I find my way back. Turns out the driver took me in the opposite direction..I’m angry..but surrounded by all these temples I try not to curse him in my head. ‘Kind thoughts..kind gestures’.
After getting over my frustration, I find a driver to take me to Doi Suteph, a venerated temple, major pilgrimage destination and one the most holy Buddhist sites in all of Thailand.
I make my way up the multitude of stairs to where this glorious temple perches over the vast hectares of forest.
I am at first denied enterance due to my loose attire. One must always be covered when entering these sacred sites-I really did know better but the film of frustration from earlier today still lingered and kicked the zen right out of me. I just plain forgot. Nonetheless, bound and determined, I pay a few bucks to borrow some pieces of cloth which I wrap around my body and head in.
It is truly something to be in the presence of such sacred temples. It’s hard to explain really, other than to say it makes me want to be a better person. I like that about Buddhism- that it’s more a way of life than anything. To be free of attachment and unneccesary suffering that we mostly create ourselves. I always thought I could be a devout Buddhist if it weren’t for my shameful carnivourism and shoe addiction.
Well naturally all that reflection worked me up an appetite..so I find myself a little stand and (thanks to the suggestion of the young lady next to me) order an authentic bowl of khao soi-a Burmese influenced curry soup from the northern region of Thailand.
What a day. I fall asleep on the drive back (seem to have a habit of that) which is just as well because tonight I meet my new friends for another tantalizing Thai dinner!