Soi Delightful

Step away from the main roads and into those narrow winding lanes called soi  and find a different world of tranquility where quaint coffee shops brew aromatic beans and guesthouses invite repose.

I’ve since taken the soi  even if it takes longer to my destinations.  It makes for a delightful walk.

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Warorot Market

Followed Google Maps to get to Warorot market from the hotel through some delightful soi and discovered yet again quaint guesthouses and coffee shops.

Toom just 15 minutes which I hardly noticed.  The cloudy day made for a pleasant stroll.

Zoomed in on the dry goods section to buy ingredients to bring home and found this wonderful stall with an equally wonderful owner.

All the dried herbs needed to recreate that Tom Yum at cooking class were there.  I wanted to shout, “Glorious galangal when I saw a big bag on the shelf.

Bought some curry pastes too for those days when I wouldn’t want to bring out the mortar and pestle.

How about some mushrooms?  Nah.  We have those back home in the Philippines.

Also bought some chili jam (at least that’s what Chef Pon called it at cooking class) for the prawn salad.

And a bag of fried worms.

Hungry?  Street stalls of sausages, fried pork, and other fried stuff abound.  Bought a TH 50 sausage (price is based on weight which is based on the size you want) and a slab of crisp fried pork (TH 100).  

Thai desserts.

Tip:  Unless you head to the food courts at the top or basement floors, there’s no place to eat your bagged goodies.  Don’t follow me and eat standing by the road.  I discovered it too late but you can eat at the side room of this temple across the street.  There’s free clean toilet, too.  You’re welcome!

After “lunch,” next stop were these stalls selling everything you need to set-up a shrine or a temple.

Don’t know if they’re play dolls or for some religious purpose.

You can even buy them a change of clothes.

There are many other interesting shops in the market’s environs which make for good shopping.  Bought a nice shirt from Nepal (according to the label) for TH 380. About 5 minutes away along the main road is a warren of stalls of all things tribal from traditional clothing, bags, accessories, textiles, and other souvenirs.  Really cheap.

These earrings  according to my sister who asked me to buy them are all the rage now and were just recently featured in the papers.  TH 100 each.  Bought 5 and was given a TH 50 discount off my total bill. 

At the back is a short lane called H’mong Lane where I bought indigo textiles for TH 250 per cut of about 1.5 meters.  

I really enjoyed shopping at the market and the nearby shops.  Maybe because I went mid-morning it wasn’t very crowded.  Prices are really cheaper than what you will find at the more tourist-oriented night markets.  Vendors weren’t pushy too.

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Waiting for Forever

Sitting at this wooden table at a quiet neighborhood just a few meters away from Loikroh.  

I had just come from Warorot Market and I need to park my heels for a while.

I only have TH 80 left in wallet so all I can afford is a single cup.of coffee.  It comes hot in a terra cota cup together with some fresh milk in palm sugar.  

60s American pop music wafts from the inside while a soft wind rustles the branches of the huge tree where I sit underneath.  A few leaves fall on my table but it’s okay.  It adds more atmosphere.   It’s just me and the cat.  The owner and the waitress are at the back of the cafe. 

I wish I had found this cafe much earlier and had spent many mornings or afternoons here.  It’s in small places like this where Chiang Mai is at its most charming and enjoyable. In some quiet soi you can claim your own piece of forever.

Note: Nam’s cafe is at Kotchasarn Rd. Lane 3. 

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Wat a Day

Stayed put at my hotel room today to work on some new choreographies for my Z Step class.  Gotta ease myself slowly back to reality.  Headed out to the old town for lunch and made a beeline for Kejana and look what I found—- empty tables!

My attempt for dinner a day ago was in vain as all tables were taken and it would take at least 30 mins for take-out.  

The pork sausage with egg was delicious. Glass noodles stir-fried with chunks of pork sausage.  Quickly jotted down my guess for the recipe.  Ate it with some pork cracklings I brought with me.​

It was filling and by the time the curry roast pork came in, I knew it would take some time to finish the substantial serving plus a cup of red rice. 

Make that a star of red rice.

Prices were higher than usual but judging from what I ate, it justified the price.  The small resto is run by a mom and her daughter and it’s really popular. Total bill including a small bottle of Coke was TH 270, the most expensive meal I’ve had in this trip so more.

With such a heavy meal, I decided to walk to Wat Loko Molee outside the old city near Champuak.  On the way, I discovered a lovely quiet wat, Wat Monthien.  Actually, I needed to go to the toilet and I know that  if there’s a wat, there are toilets.

Might as well check out the temple.

It was cool and quiet inside.

So cool that these soft sofas invited me to sit . . .

and stare at the vibrant red ceiling.

Spent about 20 minutes inside enjoying the emptiness.  

The door beckoned and I had to go.

Back into the heat of the day.  Crossed this lovely bridge to Wat Loko Molee.

This centuries-old wat is known for its beautiful wooden temple. I loved the  very graceful roofs.

There were more people here praying and making offerings.  Still quiet though.

Novice monks by the entrance.

Quite a bit of walk to the center of the old town.  Found this sweet cafe called   Coffee Corner Kitchen for   some coffee and to while away the time. 

As always, ended the day with a massage at Chaya Spa but instead of the usual 2-hour hot oil massage, got a 1.5 hour aromatherapy massage followed by 30 minutes of Thai Herbal Compress.  I’m gonna miss this place and the friendly owner.

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Chiang Mai Thai Cookery

After searching the internet for cooking schools in Chiang Mai, I finally settled for the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery Course, the first cooking school in Chiang Mai and run by Thai tv celebrity chef, Somp..  It was the most expensive (TH 1, 450  as against TH 1, 000 ) but my decision was largely based on three things: (1) I liked the menu, (2) you get a free apron if you sign-up for 2 classes, (3) you get a free certificate if you sign up for 3 classes. I signed up for 3 out of  5 classes. I scheduled them about a day apart (Dec 29, 31, and Jan 2) as those were the slots that had the least number of people joining.

Day 1

We were brought to a local market and shown some herbs we were gonna use by our chef-teacher, Pom (“you can call me Pomtastic”)  who was also our van driver who picked us up at the cooking school office across Thapae gate.

Finally learned the difference between the three kinds of basils–lemon basil, Thai basil, and sweet  basil.  

This is lemon basil which smells truly lemony.

This is sweet basil.  See the purple stems?

Kaffir lime leaves which are added just before the dish is served or at the end of cooking.

After the brief intro, we were given a few minutes to wander around.  The market was clean and had none of the usual nasty market smell. I liked the section where the delicious pork cracklings were.

From the market we proceeded to a subdivision where the cooking school was located.  It was spacious and surrounded by greenery.  The open cooking stations means no trapped smells so you don’t smell like a kitchen after the class.  Super plus points!

A group of about 15 people were already cooking in another section of the school. There were just 5 of us in our group: the friends Janine and Kay, and two other solo travelers, Natalia and Ref. 

And this is my spot.

The class format was: we watch while Pom taste while one of us lends him a hand, we taste what we cook, we go to our stations and cook it ourselves, sit down at the dining tables and eat, then cook the next dish.

It was really fun as Pom was always cracking jokes.  I also learned many tricks on how to slice vegetables faster and how to squeeze lime with a knife so you extract more juice.  It was also only that time where I learned that you discard the hard middle stalk of the lemon grass stem which you get by crushing the stem.  Pom also explained the ingredients thoroughly, letting us guess what they were. He let us taste and touch them.  

We cooked a total of 6 dishes plus dessert.  My favorite was the first one, Paenang curry pork which also involved making our paste.

Like all othet pastes, it involved much pounding on the mortar and pestle.  It still was much easier than the spice paste I made in Bali. Less ingredients to pound and smoothen into a paste.

Here’s the Paeenang Pork Curry which, unlike other curries, is cooked in coconut milk resulting in a thick sauce.

After eating the Paenang curry, it was time to cook the Fried fish with chili and basil.  Simple yet delicious.  Totally ups the fried tilapia.

After finishing the 2 dishes, we were told we were gonna cook lunch?  Whaaat?  I thought that was lunch already. We made Sweet and Sour vegetables. A little more sour than Chinese sweet and sour.

and red curry pork. Then we sat down to eat both dishes with rice.

After lunch, it was time to make our salad and dessert.

Glass noodle salad with minced pork.  Very easy to prepare.

Dessert was black rice with coconut.  Surprisingly, the black rice was cooked as is.  No sticky rice added. It was also kindy soupy.

That ended Day 1.  

Day 2

Just 5 people again today.  A couple from France and a couple from Australia.  Great company!  At the market, Pon let me roam by myself as I had already done the market tour. So I bought some fruits and ingredients such as chili paste and dried nutmeg to bring home.

Saw these lunch canisters similar to the ones sold in Penang.

Thai sweets.  Been controlling my sweet tooth so I resisted buying them.  I’ve tried them before and they’re saccharine sweet.

Arriving at the school, we headed to the herb garden to play with the resident gibbon.

Really sweet.

Our first dish of the day was the ….. gibbon! ! ! Nope.  Just joking.  He was so cute.  We made big noodles with brown sauce.  Now I know how they mix the egg in.

This was a good first dish as I was quite hungry.

For lunch we made 3 dishes.

The steamed fish in banana leaf was a little more complicated as it involved wrapping it in a pouch.

While the fish steamed, we made the yellow curry pork. 

This curry dish is really delicious because it is served with a sweet and sour sauce. See the heart-shaped coconut drops?

The chicken with cashew nuts is really really tasty.  So simple to do but so so seriously tasty.  

We were also taught how to make a decoration using lemon grass leaves.

After that heavy lunch, we made prawn salad

and a really sweet banana in coconut dessert.

This ended the cooking class today.

Unfortunately, it was also Pon’s last day as an instructor as he was opening his own cooking school on the rooftop of his friend’s guesthouse over by the Ping River.

Day 3

Just 5 people again.  The group of 8 French people backed-out as they only had 2 hours to do the cooking class as they needed to be back at the hotel by 12nn to go to the airport.

Our instructor today was the female instructor of the large group on Day 1.  There was no market tour.  The van driver simply bought the ingredients while we waited in the van.

The class today was boring as the chef wasn’t very engaging.  She simply demonstrated the dishes with none of us assisting.  I really appreciated how Pon made it very interactive for us,  letting us  experience the whole cooking class set-up.  All throughout the class, the difference in the quality of the instruction was glaring and I really started to miss Pon.  The instructor didn’t also look very tidy unlike Pon who was in a chef uniform.  

I didn’t really cook well today as I was quite disinterested.  Anyway, this is what we did.

Pad Thai, a classic.  Unfotunately, I burned the tofu. Still tasted good, though.

Tom Yum Soup.  Surprisingly easy and not too many ingredients.  I also learned there was a version with coconut milk.

My favorite, fish cakes.  So easy to do.

We made a green curry with chicken for our lunch.

Today’s salad was Minced Chicken Salad.  Mine came out dry as the fire was too strong.  

Dessery was water chestnuts in coconut milk.  Now I know the secret to the crunchy gummy texture in all those desserts.  Unfortunately, it was so delicious I ate it all up as soon as I made them.  Didn’t even reach the dining table.

So it’s a wrap for my 3 day cooking adventure.  I really enjoyed them and I was lucky my classmates were all very nice. What did I discover about Thai cusine?

1.  Herbs, particularly lemon grass, basil, and galang figure prominently.  They give that distinctive Thai taste so familiar to us.

2.  Fish sauce and soy sauce are best friends.  We also never used salt in any if the recipes.  This, I guess, is there is enough saltiness in the fish sauce and curry.

3.  Vinegar and chili are best friends, too.  Chili cuts the vinegar’s sourness and vinegar cuts the chili’s hotness.  Used together in Thai sweet and sour sauce, it’s a winning combination as a dip for fried food.

4.  The saltiness and hotness of Thai cuisine is balanced by palm sugar.  We used this a lot.  

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First Day of the Year and I’m Doing My Laundry

I woke-up at 9am and light rain was falling on Chiang Mai.  I remember back home in Manila, there was usually a light shower on the first day of the year.  Could it be all that smoke from the fireworks?   In the case of Chiang Mai, all that lanterns?  Anyway, in Manila it was a welcome respite as it cleaned the smoggy air.  Here in Chiang Mai where it isn’t smoggy (there were very little fireworks), it was coooolllldddd.  Brrrr.

Decided against going to Lanna Music House and stayed put instead to do a week’s worth of laundry.

The hotel had a 24-hour laundry on site so I took my smelly clothes and stuffed them into one of the washing machines. Next, where to put the detergent.  Fortunately, one of the Thai girls who came back to check in their laundry saw me looking perplexed so she offered to operate the machine for me. Khapun kha!

Loading the dryer was easier.  I just didn’t realize it would take that long to dry about 3kg worth of clothes.

Cost of the use of the washing machine (7kg load) including detergent was TH 30 for 30 minutes.  The dryer was at TH 10/10 minutes.  Took about 50 minutes.  Saw some laundry shops on the road by the Le Meridien at TH 30/kg while those at the soi of Loi Kroh were at TH40/kg.  There’s also a coin-operated laundry about a hundred meters from Thapae.

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Lanterns Over Chiang Mai

No fireworks at Thapae gate to bring-in the New Year.  Lanterns, a Chiang Mai tradition, filled the skies over Chiang Mai instead.  Huge huge crowd at Thapae gate and nearby areas.

The lanterns seem to go up at a considerable height.  I wonder how planes avoid them considering the airport is not very far from the city.

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Meeting the New Year with the Monks

Just got back at the hotel room after the New Year’s Eve celebrations at the old town.  Fortunately,  the only bar at the soi  where the hotel is has turned-down its music.  No more thumping bass.  The bars along Loi Kroh are still in full swing.  Why oh why had I forgotten that getting a hotel room at the bar area is not a good idea? Anyway, spent the few hours of 2016 at Wat Phan On which is famous for its unique way of greeting the new year.

The temple complex was beautifully lit with candles and gaily festooned with tung, those flags hung from the ceiling from a string net to ask for wishes.  Because it was for the new year, the tung featured images of animals of the Buddhist zodiac sign.

Chairs were set-up in front of the area where the novice monks were going to chant.  It was already filled with people.  In spite of the crowd, the mood was one of solemn reverence fit for a temple.

I was actually in the temple a little past 9 and there were still many vacant chairs and not too many people.  Even sat on one.  Bad decision to leave and go back to my hotel to get my power bank thinking my 50% battery life wouldn’t be enough (it did last).

So when I returned around 10, the place was packed.  Had to squeeze so I can have a good view of the main area. Found a spot at the back by the stairway of a small temple being built.  At 10:30, the novices came out in a line along the bamboo walkway that lead to the dirt ground with a buddha under an enormous tree.

Beautifully lit by candles, the novices sat under the tree.  Two monks were under a bamboo structure on the side.

It was mesmerizing just listening to the chanting amidst the reverential silence of the crowd and the flickering of candles.  As explained later by one of the monks, reciting the Buddha’s teachings is a fitting way to usher in the new year.  After about 30 minutes of chant, the chief monk (I just call him that because he was the one leading the chanting)
A  few minutes past midnight the chanting ceased.  The new year  was greeted by the sound of the temple gong.  No shouting or clapping.  Just the low sound of the gong and the monk’s voice.  Beautiful.

People then took one of the many dangling white strings  and wound it around their heads for good luck while a monk blessed the crowd.  

The abbot gave a short speech about being a good person in the new year which was translated in English by a monk.The ceremony ended with the novices exiting in a single file.

I joined some people in taking the white strings and tung as souvenirs.  Nice keepsake.  

Leaving the old town, I passed by one of the wats and joined the locals in ringing the temple bells.

It was past 1 am when I made my way back to Loi Kroh.  The street market along Rachadsmnoen had wrapped-up.  At Thapae gate, lanterns were still being lit and set-out.

Happy New Year!

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Pinpia Lesson Day

 Aside from cooking classes, my other goal coming to Chiang Mai was to take lessons in Lanna music instruments with Manop Thammapoondinaj, musician, instrument maker and owner of Music House 2 Apartment, a traditional music instrument store with a homestay at the apartment.   Google led me to his FB page and after quick exchanges at messenger (helped by Google translate), set-up a visit to his place.  The store wasn’t difficult to find as there was a large sign and it was in Google maps (what would life be without Google?).  Easy enough to navigate on board an Uber ride.

When I arrived, Manop greeted me warmly and led me to his shop—a music collector’s paradise!  Aside from Thai and Lanna music instruments, there were African drums, Chinese ocarinas, and even an Australian Aborigine didgeridoo— all made in Thailand! Talk about globalization and the market for world music instruments. He kindly demonstrated some of the instruments.​

My instrument of choice was the pinpia, a unique 4-stringed struck zither.  I actually hesitated buying it and was thinking of getting the sao u (bowed lute) instead as the pinpia cost TH 4, 500.  But as the Chinese student from Shanghai who wad there learning the pinpia, she chose it because it was unique.  So pinpia it is.  Fortunately, credit cards are accepted.

It wasn’t easy to play as the bigger string tuned to A in order to play E and A octave higher, one needed to press the string a bit with the 2nd finger while striking with the 3rd and quickly releasing both.   An hour later, I already had a blister on my 3rd finger and I had only learned to play 3 notes!  

With the high cost of the instrument, I have to make sure I can play it.  Anyway, lessons are free.

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Spa Splurge: Ziam Spa

I’m a sucker for massages and will get one everyday if I could.  Having gotten used to cheap massages from Php 150/hr (Banahaw Heals Spa) to Php 400/hr (Zennya Home Spa) indulging on a TH 500/hr (roughly Php 750) massage in Chiang Mai is quite a splurge considering I always have 2-hour sessions.  There are cheaper options (TH 300/hr) at Loi Kroh Rd where I’m staying but they only have female therapists.  I can go without fancy private rooms but I’m not comfortable with female therapists. Feels too weird.  The thing is, only more upmarket places have male therapists.

This morning while walking along Rachadammnoen Rd on the way to Wat Phra Singh, I stumbled on Ziam Spa.  A sign announced a 15% discount for TH 1000  packages availed before 11am.  It was just 10:30 am so I stepped in.  The reception was spotless and smelled good.  The male manager greeted me and explained the promo.  I was all set to avail but the male therapists only come in by 1 pm.  I made a 6pm booking instead.  To make-up for it (not that I was disappointed), I was given a 10% discount!  How cool is that. Paid the TH 200 reservation deposit and left.

I was back at the spa by 5:30pm.  While it was still half an hour before my appointment,   everything was ready.  I was ushered in a spacious room where my feet was immersed in a wooden bowl.filled with water and petals.   My therapist, a spectacled young man, scrubbed my feet and gave a short foot reflex as he wiped them.  Nice touch. I also filled-up a form asking about any medical conditions and my massage pressure preferences.  There was even a drawing where you circled the parts you wanted to focus on and crossed-out ones you didn’t want to be touched.  

I was then led to a private room on the second floor.  I was surprised how large it was.  Showered and waited for my therapist.

My massage was really good. It started with strong pressure points with the therapist even stepping on the back of my legs and thighs.  It felt so good as I could feel my muscles relaxing.  The strokes were strong (lower body) and soft (back) as requested.  Unlike the one I had the other day at Chaya, there was no stretching. 

Back at the reception, I was served ginger tea in a cute tray that came with a wet hand towel.

Got my cash deposit back as I used my credit card to pay for the massage.  Gave it as a tip to my masseur. 

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