Heather's Thairy

Heather's journey to Bangkok, Thailand: a year of adventure!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

I'm On Fire

As promised, here are the "Adventure Cooking" pictures from the cooking course in Chiang Mai.
I think they're really cool pictures, too bad we look ridiculous because we're pretty much hoping we don't die and not thinking at all about how we look in the photo.

Until next time,

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Triumphant Return

Catherine and Darcy are back! They’ve been back for a little while now but I really needed to take some time to do such a momentous occasion justice on my blog.
We went to dinner one night at a new restaurant (that is, new to us). We weren’t really sure how it would turn out, but we were pleasantly surprised. There is a sushi train that also carries shabu shabu ingredients running through the restaurant- people sit at the bar or tables facing the train and pay a set price to eat whatever they want off the train.

Shabu shabu is cooking in boiling broth- meat, noodles and vegetables are added to bubbling liquid (in our case, what the waitress referred to as “milk” and chicken soups) until desired doneness. Our definition of “done” was “cooked for a really, really long time in order to avoid possible regrets”.
The sushi was fairly good, though there was not a lot of variety. The shabu shabu was really nice- we had a little menu to help us identify the meats and things rolling by, and everything is fresh and delicious with the sauce served.
The best part: I enjoyed this meal with two friends missed for the past couple months.

Welcome back!

Until next time,

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


The weekend before last we stayed in Bangkok and went out and did fun things. On Saturday night, some of us got together and rented a karaoke room. As always, it was a lot of fun. In most Asian countries, karaoke doesn’t happen in a dingy bar in front of strangers- instead, you rent a room with your friends and you can stay in there the whole night and pick whatever songs you want. I’ve been three or four times now and I think it’s fantastic.

Paul came out, a rare thing…he’s usually too busy to party, but when he does come out he’s the most fun ever.

Ryan loves the mike.

Good times with good friends…and I’m sure it will only be a couple of weeks before we do it all again.

Until next time,

Friday, August 18, 2006

Chiang Mai Long Weekend: Day 3 (final day)

On our last day in Chiang Mai, Stephanie and I decided to go to the Elephant Camp while Alisa went for a massage. Alisa had been to the Elephant Camp before and highly recommended it. It was a good choice for an activity because the camp is only open 8:30-2:30 and we were flying out of Chiang Mai at 8:10 PM, so we didn't want to do anything where we might risk being late (after the gong show that was our flight to Chiang Mai).

The Elephant Camp is a half hour drive from the city. It has 77 elephants and there are three shows daily, as well as elephant riding, elephant feeding and places to walk around and look at.

Before the show, Stephanie and I fed the elephants some bananas. We bought a big bunch for 20 baht and were planning on sharing the bananas between the elephants, but after feeding one to an elephant he grabbed the whole bunch in my hand and was pretty much going to eat my hand along with it if I didn't let go. Elephant trunks are EXTREMELY strong.

After feeding, the keepers take the elephants to the river for bathing. The elephants seem to really enjoy this part- most rolled around in the water and splashed and played.

Then the elephants are taken up the hill to the arena, where they perform a fairly lengthy show for the audience. Much of the show seems to be designed not only to entertain, but to benefit the animals as well- for example, the elephants go through a series of exercises and engage in play. The elephants are extremely well-trained and have incredible relationships with their handlers. Alisa said this camp is very good for treating the animals well.

Part of the show is elephant soccer, which is SO cute. The handlers roll these oversized soccer balls to the elephants, who kick them towards the net. Two elephants took "penalty shots" on another elephant, who played goalie. It was adorable. The elephants can kick pretty hard- I wouldn't want to have to stop one of their shots!

The elephants also painted pictures under the guidance of their handlers. It seems that each elephant has been trained to produce a certain kind of painting. The camp holds the world record for most elephants painting at one time. The paintings are quite nice, and sell for 500-8000 baht. We didn't purchase any because the two we really liked that were painted that day sold in mere moments after they were finished, and it didn't seem the same to buy previously made ones.

The elephant camp was great. Chiang Mai was excellent, and we had no problem catching our return flight- it left an hour late too. Oh well, we had a fabulous time and hopefully we can go back again!

Until next time,

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Chiang Mai Long Weekend: Day Two

The second day of our long weekend in Chiang Mai was as action-packed as the first! We decided to go to the zoo in the morning. My P6 class is studying the human environment and one of the projects I had them do was create a travel brochure about Thailand or places in Thailand; some of the kids did Chiang Mai and wrote about the Zoo and how it has pandas. I figured it was a must-do situation.
The Zoo is up a mountain and has beautiful landscaping, although there is a lot of upward hiking to see the exhibits. We definitely got our exercise that day!

The zoo enclosures are impressive. The animals have lots of space and enough plants and rocks and things to have a bit of privacy. I was thrilled by the giraffes- there were three and they could- and did- walk right up to the little bridge into their enclosure. If I had wanted to I could have touched this giraffe!

The panda exhibit is the main attraction of the zoo. An extra fee is charged to enter the panda enclosure, and only a certain number of people are allowed in at a time. You have to disinfect your shoes before going in!
One panda was out when we went, which was right at "Supplementary Feeding Time". It was amazing!

It looks like he's smiling! Actually, he might really be smiling- he seemed to be enjoying himself quite thoroughly.

The panda walked up to the top of his habitat at one point, and we thought he had gone inside. Luckily we stayed a bit longer and he came back down again.

The panda home is set up so there is a space at the front where the panda plunks himself down and waits for the handler to throw him food. He looked so cute and fat and lazy sitting there, munching on what looked like 2X4's (but must have been either bamboo or sugar cane).

This picture looks so familiar...did these wild animals escape some other zoo once before? Strange...

The zoo also had penguins. What combination of animals! Pandas and penguins. There were also lions, tigers, bears...no wait, I don't actually remember seeing any of those animals, but there were orangutans and other primates, lots of birds and reptiles, a nocturnal exhibit, a seal enclosure that was under renovation (as was the aquarium, much to Alisa's disappointment), and tons of other animals. It was far more extensive than the Bangkok Zoo.

After visiting the zoo, we went to a cooking class. It was great! First, the Master (so he is called) took us on a market tour, showing us which ingredients are which and what they are used for. Then we headed to his kitchen, which is this huge place outside the main city with about 30 stoves and countertops set up. It was really nice and very clean. We learned to make Tom Yum soup- a basic broth soup with mushroom, tomato, lemongrass, spices and ours also had shrimp (thus making it Tom Yum goom). It didn't take long to prepare at all. Next we made mixed fried vegetables (Pad Pak): a combination of carrots, corn, mushroom, cabbage and greens in a nice sauce. We ate these dishes right after we cooked them.

We then made Pad Thai- fried noodles with egg, sprouts and tofu- and Panang Curry with Chicken. Both were delicious. When we made the Pad Thai, our chef taught us how to do "Adventure Cooking", which meant that we splashed oil into our flame stoves so they made a big, quick fire ball. We have pictures of it but apparently not on my camera: if I get a hold of them I'll post them later. It was really cool and no one lost an eyebrow.

He showed us three ways to make Pad Thai: mine is in the omelette style, a bit trickier than the scrambled or chopped egg styles.

The food was excellent and our host was absolutely fantastic. I especially liked the panang curry- now that I know how to make curry and have discovered it is not that hard, I will have to cook it for people back home! We had a great time, along with Rob, the lone other member of the group. Having so few people in the class was excellent because we had much more individual attention than we might have had otherwise.

In the evening, we went to the Sunday night bazaar. It was INCREDIBLE! There was SO much stuff to look at and to buy. It wasn’t just all the same stuff over and over, either- there were new and different things, and at very reasonable prices. I admit, I did a bit of shopping...
One of the highlights of the bazaar was the ice cream that we had midway through our shopping spree. Ice cream here tends not to have cream in it, and sometimes no milk at all, but this was a nice, light ice-milk kind of confection. Mine was coconut and quite refreshing.
I couldn't believe how big the night bazaar was; the next day, it was like it never happened. In the few hours before morning the stalls, the merchandise and the sellers vanished...

Another busy day in Chiang Mai was concluded with drinking the last of the Laos wine (not high on my recommendation list) and a well-deserved rest.

Coming up: Chiang Mai Long Weekend: Day Three (final day).

Until next time,

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Chiang Mai Long Weekend: Day One

This past weekend Stephanie, Alisa and I went to Chiang Mai, in the North of Thailand. We had a long weekend from Friday to Monday, with Monday being the observed holiday for the Queen's birthday. The Thais celebrate Mother's Day on the Queen's birthday, so it changes every time there is a new Queen. Father's Day is on the birthday of the King.

We flew out on Friday night after school. Our plane was scheduled to depart at 7 PM, so we got in a cab at about 5:30. We are not too far from the airport so we thought it would be fine...but we were wrong. We arrived at the airport at 6:47 PM. We checked in in a mad rush, ran through the airport (almost losing Steph in the process) and got to the plane in time...to wait for more than half an hour.

Oh well. The time lost on the ground was almost made up in the air, and we were in Chiang Mai around 8:30. We stayed at a nice place called "Happy House", run by a friendly and helpful man who booked us on a trek for Saturday morning.

We decided on the trek that included hot springs, Chiang Rai, the ancient city, lunch, the Golden Triangle, and visits to hill tribes for 1000 baht. We figured it was worth it for a tour that runs from 7 AM to about 8 PM.

The van picked us up bright and early Saturday morning at about 7:10 AM. There were six of us altogether on the trek, which was great because the van seated 9 so there was some extra space. This was a good thing since much of the trek was a driving tour of Northern Thailand- about six or seven hours of driving altogether.

We weren't put off by the driving distance, though: the drive was spectacular. Northern Thailand is very mountainous and lush- the jungle is very dense in some places and we could only imagine what sort of creatures were lurking within.

The landscape reminded me so much of driving through the Rockies...this photo could have been taken somewhere on the TransCanada in B.C. if not for the car driving on the wrong side of the road!

Our first stop was not so much a tour attraction as a pit stop for, as our guide called it, "Toilet and relax", at the Hot Springs. Hot springs are apparently pretty hot in Thailand, hot enough that they are not used for bathing but rather to cook eggs. There were three exposed springs, round pits where merchants are boiling eggs. It wasn't spectacular so I didn't waste space on my camera. Just close your eyes and imagine a hole with water in it. Ahhh...

Our second stop was far more interesting, an ancient temple/city. I can't remember the name. Our guide told us some history about the place, but if you know me you know that I don't listen very well to information so I pretty much forget everything she said. I took some pretty pictures, though...

Thais wrap Buddhist symbols, like the Bodhi tree and the temple ruins, in yellow fabric for luck. The sticks balanced against the tree are another symbol of faith and luck- I suspect that the sticks we saw a while back underneath the large rocks at the waterfalls were of the same nature.

Next on the tour was the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Burma (Myanmar), Laos and Thailand meet. It was neat to be at the borders but honestly it is not like there are lines painted or anything: the Mekong River seperates Thailand from Burma and Laos, but the landscape on either side is the same so it's hard to tell where one ends and another begins. We were hoping that the three of us could each put a foot over each border and take a picture, but none of us were up to the task of straddling the Mekong.

The Mekong is very wide and was very high, this being rainy season. It is also very dirty looking. It doesn't smell and thankfully there wasn't anything floating in it, but the water is almost opaque, a rusty brown colour. The mud on the mountains is almost red, so the runoff from the rain likely takes soil to the river and colours it reddish brown.

We took a longtail speedboat trip along the Mekong. We went up and down the river for about ten minutes, covering a fair amount of distance. Longtails go VERY fast. I had the best seat on the boat, as evidenced by my being the wettest when we got off.
The boat trip takes passengers to see Burma and Laos. When the boat arrives at the Laos side, you can get out and see Laos for about a half an hour for 20 baht extra. No visa or passport required. I think if you wanted to go beyond the little establishment at the peir you would have to go through some kind of process (read: paying off the men working over there), so we just wandered around a bit and were happy to be able to say "I've been to Laos".

As I said before, the landscape of the surrounding countries is the same as that in Thailand, so I didn't take any pictures of the Laos countryside. I did, however, feel that the following had to be shared.

These are bottles of what the locals and our tour guide called "Snake Whiskey". They are full of REAL scorpions, snakes, insects and a mystery liquid. They call it snake whiskey, I call it bottle full of gross stuff, or "Scam" for short. We didn't buy any.
We did buy some wine from Laos, thinking we shouldn't visit another country and go home empty handed. 50 baht per pretty bottle of neon-coloured liquid which turned out to taste very much like double strength Kool-Aid.

Our final stop before visiting the hill tribes was a city on the border of Thailand and Burma. Again, I cannot remember what it was called, but it was a hilly, beautiful place. We drove through- literally, through- the marketplace to get to a viewpoint, where you could go to the top of a tower and get a 360 degree view of the city and the surrounding area. I may not have actually gone to Burma, but I've seen it!

The viewpoint is guarded by a giant scorpion statue, which our guide told us was built in honour of some important historical figure.

The view from the top of the tower was incredible. The mountains are so beautiful, all misted and green, and the cities below look almost pristine from such a height. One forgets the business and rush of the market and the street when looking down at the land.

We could see the rain coming in from up there; the sky growing dark and the wind getting cold. It is amazing how fast the weather can change here- one minute, it is hotter than anything, the next it is chilly and gusting wind, and then the skies open and buckets of rain fall.

The Burmese Parliament is also easily seen from the height of the tower. At least, that's what we figured this cream-coloured, important looking building is.

In the tower there is a bell, which people ring for luck. We didn't ring it, but one of our companions did. I wonder if he's been lucky since...

After the viewpoint, we drove a bit further to visit two hill tribes. We were pretty excited about this part of the trek, thinking it would be fascinating to see how people live in a tribe in Thailand. It seems so different than how we live, even now that we live in Thailand. When we arrived at the first village, our driver had to maneuver very carefully so as to avoid running over the children than swarmed the van. We were saddened to see that these children were trying to sell us things. We waded through the crowd of children to see some women in the traditional dress of the tribe, to be told by our guide that the women dress up and charge 10 baht for photos. It all seemed terribly staged. There were some shops set up within the village (obviously for passing tour groups) and in one, there was a picture of Hillary Clinton visiting the tribe. I didn't take any pictures. It didn't seem right, even if they had been free. The whole thing seemed fake.

The second tribe was less overt in their self-commercialization, but I still wasn't inclined to take any photos. Alisa told us that to really experience the hill tribe culture, you must go on an overnight trek to live with the people. In an overnight trip, you are taken to a remote location and dropped off, then you hike into the village. The villages that participate in that type of trek are less commercial and are more genuinely interested in introducing people to their way of life, allowing visitors to live as they do.

I was disappointed in our hill tribe visits, not only because I felt that I hadn't seen any genuine culture but also because I suspect that the reason the culture is suppressed or glossed over by commercialism is because people like me sign up for these quick, all-in-one treks. I felt like I had done something wrong, that I had perpetuated the destruction of an ancient way of life.

Overall, though, I was very pleased with the trek. Northern Thailand is so different from the area around Bangkok and the other places I have visited. It is so lush and green and fresh.

After a long drive back, we went to the night market. In Chiang Mai there are two night markets- the regular, every night market, and the Sunday night bazaar. Saturday night we visited the regular market, which was quite extensive, though much of it featured items we have seen again and again at markets. Still, we had a good time and were excited for the next day's itinerary: the Zoo, a cooking course and the Sunday night bazaar.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Chiang Mai Long Weekend!

Until next time,