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Monday, January 30, 2006

The art of Sangsom

Chiang Mai is a city that is getting it’s share of air time in the world right now. Any trip to Thailand seems no longer SOLELY about the islands, but also a trip north to Chiang Mai and the surrounding region. Rightfully so. Different than modern Bangkok, Chiang Mai’s center is the Old City, surrounded by a wall and moat, with four “gates” or entry points. There’s a certain feel of authenticity inside the Old City, as the surrounding city of Chiang Mai has started to modernize, filling the streets with good shopping and restaurants. The contrast, though, works.

My first night in Chiang Mai was a blast. First, I walked around the Night Bazaar, which is on ChangKlan Road every night from 6-midnight. The street lines itself with vendors, hundreds of hundreds of them, selling silks, bags, trinkets, CDs, jewelry, etc… for pennies. Like in Bangkok, you just wander and watch it all go on around you. Believe it or not, I’m not REALLY tempted to buy too much out here (so far, I know myself better than to never say never about shopping…) so, more than anything, all the bazaars are just great people-watching time for me. Then, Reiter put me in touch with her friend’s brother, Andrew, who’s been living in Chiang Mai for about five years. He was great, so helpful accommodating in planning my trip, so we met for dinner and immediately hit it off. He took me, by motorcycle (love the motobikes travel out here in Asia, it’s all so Cool-Rider-esque), to dinner on the Ping River, which at night has a good scene, restaurants are big, serve great Thai food, and local bands cover American music with uncanny ability. It AMAZES me how by day, these people ONLY speak Thai, and by night, they’re Bob Dylan complete with the Minnesota twang on random syllables.

Indeed dinner became an extra special night, for I was introduced to "the" Thai whiskey, which is really a rum called Sang Som, which we proceeded to kill two, yes two, bottles of (I’m since hooked…). Everyone drinks it out here, you order bottles, albeit small bottles, not glasses of the stuff and hope for the best. Then, we proceeded to a local Thai club called Bubble and danced our asses off. I mean…. Meanwhile, the Thai people, while they can party, have NO rhythm. I’ve noticed this in Asia. No ability to clap, kick, step-ball-change, or shake to the beat. It’s all off, and if you’ve got rhythm (and I KNOW I’ve got rhythm…), you’re a little upset at the lack thereof. Someone should open a chain of dancing schools out here, call it ‘Johnny America Dances’ or something equally Western, and make a fortune….

I woke Day Two of Chiang Mai a MISERABLE rummed-out bitch. So, I hired a car to take me to out of town to Wat Doi Suthep (the premiere temple in Chiang Mai that overlooks the city) alone, because I really couldn’t deal with having to be anything but quiet and hungover. Buddhist hospitality, though, couldn’t even do the trick. I was snappish and cranky to my ever-sweet driver, who finally got pissed off and duped me into seeing the Sam Kaempang Road “tourist trap” local factories after the temple (which was beautiful, but after the Grand Palace in Bangkok, little can compare), and wound up buying a silver bracelet that I’ve probably seen about 10 renditions of for a quarter of the price in various marketplaces since. Asshole. But, likely serves me right for my attitude. I guess even Buddhist are allowed revenge sometimes.

The third day in Chiang Mai was the best day, as I took a cooking class. It’s a big thing in Thailand to learn, assuming you like the food as much as I have, how to cook Thai. So, I signed up for the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery school, a one-day class taught by the “Emeril” of Thailand, Sompon. A great, great, day. We learned how to make 6 traditional courses (Marisa, mine were: chicken in coconut milk soup, fish with red curry, fried wide noodles with brown sauce, stir-fried mushrooms and baby corn with chilis, papaya salad with sticky rice and banana (I subbed pumpkin) cake in banana leaves), first going to the market and picking our ingredients, then eating every morsel of what we made. Parting gift: Thai cookbook. So, when I get home next, I’ll cook y’all some curry, k? Of course, I went a little overboard on flipping the wok all around and “tossing” my food in and out of it, that I scalded my foot with about a 1/3 cup of boiling oil when it slopped out of my wok. Now, I have a discolored left foot b/c of the burn. Yeah. But, a true champ (read: embarrassed), I didn’t tell anyone. I suffered silently. Maybe I’ll check into a 5-star hotel in the next city for “successfully battling the oil….”

Day four’s trek was supposed to start at 8 AM, but getting downstairs for the bus, the very polite Thai lady at the Tour Desk realized she booked me for the wrong day. BUT, I WAS SUPPOSED TO GO ON A VILLAGE TREK AND RIDE THE ELEPHANTS TODAY… “I sorry, I sorry, Miss Marie.” Swallow, breathe, does this really matter? You’re in Thailand, trekless. Big freakin’ deal. YOU’RE IN THAILAND, Marie. THAILAND. No, it doesn’t matter one bit… Sometimes, you just need to check yourself. So after kicking around town, exploring more of Chiang Mai, I signed online and got a nice surprise ~ Adam from Nha Trang and his friends arrived today, looking for me. So fun! The best part of SEAsia travel is that everyone is on the same route and the paths cross over and over again. So, you’re continually able/bound to see the people you enjoy. That became Day 4 in Chiang Mai, meeting up with Adam, Sang Som-ing it, obviously... He taught me a different way to enjoy my Thai whiskey. Buckets. Basically, you get a bucket of ice, a Coke, a Red Bull, and a bottle of Sang Som. You dump them all into the ice bucket. Voila, your cocktails....drink up.

So, as you might've guessed, considering I learned buckets last night, I almost didn’t make it to the rescheduled, now half-day, elephant camp tour, but luckily my Thai Travel desk friend woke my Sang-Som’d ass outta slumber at 8:15 with a “Miss Marie…you sleepy?” I felt awful, but knew that I had to go. Who goes to Chiang Mai and doesn’t see the elephants? And, I was flying out to Laos in the afternoon, today was my last chance. I jumped unshowered and exhausted into the van, begging my stomach to hold on just a little longer until we got to the camp. Well, as we arrived, I lost it. I had to sit down on the side, work out of my nausea and light-headedness. A rush of Thais, all looking confused at my behavior, could be seen offering me Mentos, baguettes, smelling salts, water, juice, anything to get me smiling again. I wasn’t sure that was going to happen… After a circus-like performance by the 77 elephants in the camp (They paint! They dance! They sing! They give rides!), which made me a little sad over the way they’re exploited for the idiotic tourist population, I decided to take a ride on an elephant. Yeah, not the best move. Has anyone ever ridden an elephant? Very slow, up-down, move-one-big-fat-elephant-leg-at-a-time bumpy ride that is cake with a good night’s un-alcohol-fueled sleep, I’m SURE. Not for me. I had to be taken OFF the elephant, all the Thais talking in Thai to get me (quickly, ha!) back to the loading-unloading dock where I could disembark (you can’t just like, jump off) mid-way through. Loser loser loser, Marie, So, there I was, sitting in like, the sick-bay infirmary, of elephant camp while the rest of my group got to play and frolic with the animals. What a morning….

Off to Laos, but after a fun five days in Chiang Mai. Wonder when I’m next drinking Sang Som….? Yeah, right.

More soon…


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