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Sometimes you just need to get out there and see the world. But, being an American, those 2 weeks of vacation time a year just don’t really give you the kind of time you need to get to know a new place, or places, very well.  So, some of us go drastic and quit our jobs and leave our loved ones temporarily for an adventure of a lifetime. Eeep!

I’ll be starting out in Australia, where I’ll get to meet relatives I’ve never seen before in person, and see others for the first time in 17 years. Then, look out, Southeast Asia!  I’m heading your way!

Muay Thai in Chiang Mai

There were signs up all around town, advertising “Real” International Muay Thai fighting. Every day or two, a new sign went up, highlighting a new challenger from a different country, usually Western. Well, staying in one place for a week resulted in these things eventually catching my eye (I was sold when I finally saw “Lady Boxer” listed as one of the fights) and I decided that if I was ever going to see this sport in person, I might as well experience Thai boxing in Thailand itself.  Besides, I’ve seen UFC on tv, so it couldn’t be much different from that, right?

Plus- free drink! 😉

Since it didn’t start till 9pm, I stopped a block away from the stadium for dinner near the Tha Phae Gate at the East city wall. I had a great spicy Khao Soi noodle soup, (only $2.20- it would have been even cheaper at a non-Western place) so with burning lips I made my way to the ticket gate with my cheaply pre-purchased ticket.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but the word “stadium” didn’t seem to fit the tin-roofed cinderblock building I was ushered into. But once inside, the space was both open and cozy, with lots of colorful little half-bars lining the walls behind the seats. I was seated in close quarters in the “Sandy Bar by Al” section. Soon after being seated, my free drink was delivered- a house punch that tasted like it was fermented in someone’s bathtub last week. The little bits of apple floating in it gave the drink a festive touch.

They started a little late, but the event is scheduled from about 9pm to midnight, so you certainly get a full night. When the first fighters stepped into the ring, to a grand intro of sound and light, I realized just how much different a boxing event could be in another country.
I’m pretty sure that there are age limits in the UFC. There did not appear to be age limits here. The first fight was fought by what looked like 8 year olds. They must have been a little older than that, but they were these skinny little boys who supposedly weighed in at 100 lbs. They didn’t look 100 lbs to me.

It felt really odd to be cheering for children… who were fighting.  At least I wasn’t the only one who thought this was weird (sometimes I wonder); I overheard a fellow spectator asking his buddy if he could claim that he had six pack abs when he was in 5th grade.

There were 6 main fights ending with the international “super fight”, which Spain won. The “special fights” might have been the best part- a hilarious (yet maybe very dangerous?) blindfolded group boxing bout. One guy almost took out the ref:

The activity on the sides between rounds is almost as entertaining as the boxing itself.  There’s an interesting routine of limb-rubbing and water-dousing ending with the coach (or, in the childrens’ case, another child) picking the fighter up off his feet for a moment.

During the less-active moments of the night, the high-pitched noisy music got a little annoying, but also lent to the night’s feel of “otherness”.

I confess that I had been planning to leave early if the fights went long (I’d been warned they might), but there were a few knock-outs that night between the older/heavier fighters, so that kept the event to its scheduled end-time. So, for the reasonable price of 300 baht (less than $10) I got a whole night’s worth of entertainment, though it was slightly disturbing at times and probably far more amateurish than the equivalent show in Bangkok. However, it was also a fraction of the cost of the same experience in Bangkok, and could not have been more conveniently located. There’s just nothing like being able to walk home after a weird night on the town.

Chiang Mai Pad Thai

I thought I’d share a video of the cooking class I took in Chiang Mai. It’s just a “taster”- a few minutes long- but you too can feel like you were there. It’s one thing to google a recipe and read all about how to make your favorite dish, but another experience entirely to see it made right in front of you.

Here you can see exactly how to cook a delicious pad thai. Yum.

Chiang Mai and cooking Thai!

Aaaannd we’re back!

I tell you, eating all day is hard work. As I started writing this post, I was at The Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking school, and was absolutely stuffed on delicious Thai food. But I still had two more courses to go. I’d already made a curry paste, cooked a cashew chicken stir fry, used the curry paste to make a yellow coconut curry tofu dish, and even created tom kha soup.

Next up was my favorite- pad see ew, and then mango with coconut sticky rice for dessert.

But someone would have to roll me back into the kitchen to make it happen.

We started the day with our group being picked up at our various hotels and proceeding straight to a tour of a local farmers market, where our instructor, MB, explained the different types of rice that Thais eat, the reasons for the variations in curry color, as well as the difference between fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, etc.  After the lesson, we got to wander the market for a little sightseeing of some gorgeous, exotic fresh fruits and veggies, as well as some amazing-looking sweets and dried… stuff. 

I tried some warm bananas in coconut milk for breakfast. In a bag. Weird, but tasty.

The plastic bags tied to the fans over some of the tables (particularly the fresh meat) were an interesting solution to keep the flies off.  After the market, we headed out to the farm and got a tasting tour of the various herbs and veggies in the garden.

But though we were at their farm, we didn’t have to pick anything ourselves. 

Everything was already neatly assembled ahead of time. The ingredients for each course were pre-measured and delivered to us on a pretty tray or cutting board.  All we had to do was chop it all up and throw it in at the right time.

We didn’t even have to make the rice ourselves. When it came time to start enjoying our creations, we were served some special sticky rice with our meal. The rice had been steamed in this little wicker basket that looked like a head with a hat on it.

But now we had to move on from our first few courses and get down to the business of cooking again. MB was fun and full of energy, which is just what you need when your stomach is full and you need the motivation to get up and cook more food!  Most of the prep was already done, and dirty dishes and serving/measuring devices were whisked away quickly.

 I took some notes and videos, but was reassured to learn that there would be a recipe book to take home at the end of the class.

I met some great people at the class, and give many thanks to those who shared their own creations with me. We all got to choose what we wanted to make, so we had some menu variations in the class, and people generously shared their unique dishes. And extra thanks to people like the spring roll-making German couple, Doris and Mario, who took some photos of me so I can prove I was there, cooking up a storm.

I was very excited to learn how to cook a couple of dishes in particular, but I have to admit that my favorite dishes didn’t taste quite as good as I expected. Surprisingly, the other courses actually tasted much better than I thought they would, even though they weren’t the ones I was lookig forward to.

 

And now that I’ve made these things myself, I might be able to tinker with the ingredients to get it right next time and even make everything at home. Anyone know where to find fresh galangal and lemongrass? There may be some substitutions in my future, though it’s possible that all the good Asian markets near me might have everything I need. Now I just have to find that perfect thin Thai consistency of the large rice noodles for pad see ew.

That dish was particularly fun to make, as it involved literally getting my hands dirty.

 

I got to massage the molasses into the rice noodles!  That was strange- I’ve never had to actually use my hands when cooking noodles before.

The pad see ew has been out of this world in Thailand. And I tried it at least 10-15 times. Kim and I ate it almost every day.

What?  It was much-needed field research!  I just never knew research could be so delicious. 🙂

To Be Continued…

Well, I’ll be home in less than 2 weeks. The first thing I plan to do is murder some cookie dough, then I will eat my weight in cheese, and finally, I will resume posting all the weird and wonderful things I have discovered on my travels.

I’m hoping the computer will be fixable once I’m back home and in one place for more than 2 days! I look forward to sharing all the rest of my adventures with you then. Stay tuned for cooking classes in Chiang Mai, playing with elephants, Muay Thai fights, a “slow boat” ride down the Mekong River, the vast and mysterious Plain of Jars, a food challenge in the sweet little French-influenced town of Luang Prabang in Laos, Angkor Wat at sunrise and sunset, the temple-eating trees of the Tomb Raider ruins of Ta Prohm in Cambodia, cooking classes in Phnom Penh, the nightime cityscape of Hong Kong from Victoria Harbor, tea plantations in Sri Lanka, fire-twirlers and be-gowned elephants on parade at night for Esala Perahera, and assorted waterfalls, monks, temples, and lots and lots of food. If all goes according to plan in the next week, I’ll also be adding my thoughts and photos of Singapore, Malacca, and Kuala Lumpur!

Hope to see you back again soon.

🙂

Uh oh…

I had all these (brilliant) posts lined up in rough draft form on my laptop, and photos to illustrate my travels, but I’ve hit a snag.

My computer won’t start.

I’m hoping this can be overcome in the next few days, but I just don’t know at this point. So, I’m apologizing in advance for a break in posts- they will be resumed once I can access everything again! Thanks for your patience.

On travel…

I’m sitting here in this foreign land, in a cafe across from a river with a name I can’t pronounce (yet). I’m eating my dinner- a local specialty which, if I could find it, costs less than half what it would at home. I’m drinking my beverage made of a fruit I love but which costs $2 a piece at home and wouldn’t be frittered away in a drink if I bought it. And I’m reading my downloaded book (thank you, library!) which has nothing to do with travel, but which nonetheless just delivered the following thought-provoking quote to me. Enjoy…

“No man is brave that has never walked a hundred miles. If you want to know the truth of who you are, walk until not a person knows your name. Travel is the great leveler, the great teacher, bitter as medicine, crueler than mirror-glass. A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself that a hundred years of quiet introspection.”

~Patrick Rothfuss

Thoughts?

Chiang Mai Night Market

For some reason, Kim decided not to quit her job and join me for the rest of the trip, so we had to part ways when she went home and I continued north to Chiang Mai. Rest assured, we had many more adventures that I haven’t covered yet but will post in future. 🙂

I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand on a Sunday night, which can only mean one thing: Night Market!! They take over a bunch of streets in the center of town, make them pedestrian-only, and sell tons of decorations, clothes, and souvenirs- and food!  Ah, lights and colors… bliss!

And of course they had lanterns- my favorite. Admit it- you know you want one! I’m rubbing off on you.  :-)  One of the great things about this market is that instead of mass-produced junk, most of the items being sold here are made locally and help sustain the community. So, you can feel good about stocking up and giving in to the urge to accumulate souvenirs (assuming you have space!).

Some crafts are more obviously home-made than others. Some show up at multiple stalls, so you know that it’s a larger business but one that is hopefully still local.  And when I say multiple stalls, I need to clarify that this market has become so huge that I wandered it for about five hours and still missed parts of it. It’s really a big community event.

At some stalls, the artisan is actually sitting at the booth and creating while at the market itself. I walked by this display of detailed lacquerware and saw a person seated alongside it, painting more of the bowls! It just doesn’t get more local than that. That’s the kind of market I want to support. Plus, if you cut out the middleman, sometimes prices are a little cheaper. 😉

One of the other nice things about the Chiang Mai market is the local music and dance performances that are featured at a few stages. And there are a few bands, notably of blind singers, who sit in the middle of the road in a row and belt out their all-time hits.

The flipside is that I also saw children standing alone and singing into microphones. Not talented children, either, but cute ones set out by their parents to collect tip money. It’s sad to see kids essentially working to support the family- and so late at night.

But there is a positive thing about the market being held from 5pm- 11pm.

It’s a great opportunity to see some of the wats. The local ones stay open late on market nights, so you can see them all lit up at night.

Oddly, you can also get your street/market food and eat at the temples. They set up tables and chairs and food stalls on the temple grounds.

I never thought I’d get to enjoy that kind of scenery during dinner!  But what a great use of space.

Like the sleeping and mealtimes we saw taking place at the temples back in Yangon, this is clearly a community that believes it doesn’t have to separate its holy places from its daily life… or its fun.