03/07/2012 - 03/13/2012 80 °F
It appears that some people (Ben) can't wait for our next update. Here it is, Dawg! Since we last posted we've been thoroughly enjoying the north of Thailand. Our pace of adventuring is slowing a bit as we get accustomed to life in this country and we both seem to be doing more reading than either of us can remember. Kindles are truly amazing facilitators of this, btw.
We ended up spending a total of 4 days in Chiang Mai at a wonderful guest house called Sri-Pat. Our first major activity was renting a scooter and driving the 15km northeast of the city to see one of the North's most sacred temples, Doi Suthep. The route is a flat 5K, then a further winding, switchbacking 10K up the side of a mountain, followed by 306 steps up to the gate. It is also the traditional hike that all freshman take when they matriculate at Chiang Mai University. Legend tells that the monk who built the temple entrusted a sacred stone to an elephant who would decide the exact spot for building. The elephant wandered for days, eventually falling over dead in the spot where the temple now sits. We decided to get in on some of the Good Karma and lit some candles and a bit of incense for communing with Buddha, fitting right in with the hundreds of others who had come to do the same. The views on the ride up would have been fantastic but for the perpetual haze that hangs over, from what we can tell, the entire region during the dry season. It is caused not by pollution from cars, scooters, and tuk-tuks, but by the near complete burning of the underbrush that the local farming communities perform this time of year. Sometimes visibility is literally at a few hundred feet. It seems that the whole region is eagerly awaiting the first monsoon rains that will wash away the smoke. It wouldn't be until almost a week later, further north in Soppong, that we would actually see the sun for the first time.
Side note: one of the oddities of the North is that all the pools are absolutely freezing. Its the exact opposite problem of the South, where all you want is a pool to cool off in and instead you get bathwater. First World Problem, I guess, but it has caused us to take to jumping into Pacific Ocean-cold water for an invigorating afternoon swim.
The picture above of the two statues is significant because it represents Annie and my birth day Buddhas. I was born on a Thursday and am therefore associated with the one on the left, in which you see the Buddha meditating. Annie was born on Friday and is therefore connected to the thinking Buddha. Do these Buddhas correctly predict our personalities?
Our last full day in Chiang Mai we signed up for Thai cooking lessons with a wonderful company called Thai Farm Cooking School. You get to cook in a beautiful kitchen out on an organic farm away from Chiang Mai. We got an early start and were picked up, along with our 10 or so cooking buddies, and taken to the local market for a lecture about the ingredients we would later be using to cook our dishes. It was here that we got to know our teacher, EM, who was as funny as she was knowledgeable. She had no trouble laughing at herself or by herself, as the rest of us were still a bit sleepy and incredulous at her boundless energy. She claimed to have learned English from The Wizard of Oz and, as if to prove it, had a laugh eerily similar to the wicked witch of the west's. The day was as packed (as well as our stomachs) as any we spent on this trip. We each made a total of 5 dishes - a curry, a soup, a stir fry, a noodle dish, and finally a dessert. We made some great cooking school friends with whom we shared this feast.
After Chiang Mai, we headed north to Maehongson province and first to the backpacker haven, Pai. Its one of the more relaxed places we've been, catering to western tourists and also vacationing Thais. Plenty of live music, bars, and leisure activities. These pictures were taken our first night there where we visited the best pizza place in Thailand, chef-ed by this adorable woman in her railroad cap. She certainly knows how to make italian food!
In Pai, we got lucky enough to stumble across the best guesthouse we've stayed in so far, Family House @ Pai. It was just opened 5 days ago by 2 lovely women, and we've been able settle in there and be welcomed back every day like a member of the family.
The following day we headed out into the countryside and found ourselves at a beautiful, if deserted, hot springs resort. Here are a few of the various pools where we found ourselves relaxing. These resorts are really funny, because they seem to nearly shut down during the dry/low season. What this means for us is rock-bottom prices, if you can be happy with the smokey scene and relative isolation.
Despite some of our misgivings about animal treatment and hyper-touristy elephant activity, we decided to go for a nice, slow-paced (like 0.5 km/hr) elephant ride. We went to Noi's Elephant Camp on our bike, and Noi had us climb 7 feet up on to the back of an adorable female elephant. We lumbered through the countryside, with No-Poi (the elephant) stopping to eat whole mango trees and head down cliffs in search of water. Noi, our elephant driver was a laugh-a-minute and kept saying things like "Oh my Budda!" when we would begin a seemingly too steep descent for a several ton animal.
After a few days in Pai, the dusty mountain road was calling, and we hopped our scooter to head over to Sopping, an hour and a half east towards Burma. The town itself was much less touristy than anything we'd encountered, to the point that we could only find one place that even offered us food. It turned out to be one of our favorite meals of trip - perfectly done fried rice and super spicy shan (the name of a local tribe) meatballs. We found some great country roads for driving around, and passed through some really tiny towns, complete with Thai children playing in dams and pigs on the side of the road. We stayed at another gorgeous but deserted resort called The Rock Resort. For about $30, we were given a river view bungalow with a private dock for feeding fish and our own swing bridge to wander across!
We're now back in Pai, having been welcomed home by our friends at Family House. Today we're off to explore a canyon and a waterfall, and tomorrow will be heading back towards Bangkok to close out Thailand with a big night of celebration. Annie finds out where she matched on Friday night at midnight! (Btw, she found out on Monday night that she did in fact match somewhere, and does not have to undergo to the SOAP/scramble process that some medical students across the country are currently embroiled in.)