Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Asheville of Asia - Recapping Chiang Mai (Part 1)...

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown
Days left in Singapore: 24

Days left until arrival in the Queen City: 31


And now the next contestants on the new Season of "Hell's Kitchen..."
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull ran for his fourth straight day today, logging 4 miles in exactly 34 minutes.  That's 30 seconds a mile slower than yesterday, but as I'm into the "acclimitization" phase of moving from 3 miles to 4, I'm okay with it.  More importantly, for the first time in a long time I'm truly looking forward to my workouts as opposed to just feeling the need to churn through the miles, which is a very good thing.

So I realize that the Bull is looooooooooooong overdue in giving you all the recap of our two Thailand adventures.  In fact, the parts of Chiang Mai that I'm going to cover tonight are from October 27th and 28th, which is over a bloomin' month ago.  Oh well, better late than never, right?  And so, apologies out of the way, let's get amongst it.

We landed fairly late in the evening on Thursday night, really just in time to check in at the hotel and grab a nightcap at the bar across the street.  Jenny had stayed at this place previously with Yazz, and she'd told me that it was really nice.  However, we got an upgrade, which meant that our room was PIMPTASTIC.  Seriously - it was ENORMOUS, complete with a four poster bed and a door that would have been the envy of any temple in Southeast Asia.  Our room opened onto the pool and our table for brekkie, which was included every day (and sooooooo guuuuuuud).  All in all, the first night started off great (even if we did get kicked out of the bar when we tried to order a third Chang).

Sammy the Bull waiting patiently for his 19,000 calorie
breakfast.  Hey, travel takes it out of you - gotta carb up!
We started Friday in royal fashion after about 10 hours of sleep, rolling out of bed and making the 4 steps to our poolside table for the "American breakfast."  Basically, you had 3 options - the thai breakfast (which was fiery but small), the continental breakfast (which  was WEAK LIKE UKRAINE), and then the American breakfast (read:  WE PILE THIS HIGH FOR ALL THOSE FAT ASSES FROM THE US WHO CAN'T STOP EATING).  Yeah, I was pretty much in Heaven every single morning.  All I could repeat was, "I LOVE Chiang Mai!"

We then made the move to head into town, but we just couldn't make any headway because everywhere we looked was GREAT shopping.  We went about nine steps before finding a tourism office, where we popped in and booked our two tours for the weekend.  We then went back to the room, put the vouchers in the safe, and headed back out down our street, only to stop another 2 blocks on at a used book shop.  In a word - NIRVANA. 

Seriously - this place was piled high with TONS of books that I'd been looking for, and in true a) used and b) Asian fashion, they were cheeeeeeeap.  Consequently, 15 minutes and 8 books later, we were loaded down again and had to head BACK to the room to drop off all the purchases. 

We finally do make it into town and go for a wander along the river.  Jenny had told me that Chiang Mai had a very Asheville, NC feel to it, and I definitely got that vibe walking around.  It's in the mountains (they loom like an enormous shadow in the background against that amazingly blue sky), and you'll find that most folks are pretty relaxed about, well, everything.  I loved it instantly.  Our wanderings took us across the river and down a ways before cutting back and and wandering into our first temple of the trip.  It should be noted at this point that Chiang Mai is famous for its temples (I know, I know - what place ISN'T famous for temples in Asia) - and I must say that they definitely have a monopoly on uniqueness.  Take our first one, for example - Wat Bupparham.

Welcome to the Church of Donald Duck..."life
is like a Hurricane, here in Duck-berg..."
Now look - I'm ALL ABOUT happiness.  I'm all about religion.  I'd say I'm all about peace, but we know I have a violent streak the size of the Valley Marinaris on Mars.  If you are Buddhist and want to express your love of life and happiness, I TOTALLY support that.  But may I suggest that you DO NOT USE DONALD DUCK STATUES ON THE FRONT OF YOUR TEMPLE.  May I also suggest that you DO NOT LET WILD ROOSTERS JUST RUN WILD ALL OVER YOUR PROPERTY.  If you live by these two rules, you'll be fine. If you don't, you'll end up with another Wat Bupparham. 

This place was WICKED strange, but the architecture was actually very impressive, and I'm really glad that we went.  Plus, the sky was getting CRAZY dark as we wandered around, which a) cooled things down a bit (much needed), and b) made for some fantastic photos. 

Typical fish market stall - most of the fish are still alive and
flopping - one actually popped off its tray and hit Jenny!
After that we wandered into Chinatown, where I was on a mission to procure some uber-cheap sunnies for our upcoming rafting trip.  I was made at myself because I'd left my "fakelys" at the condo, so I was determined to spend NOT ONE PENNY above $5 for a pair of shades.  We'll I rolled up on a pair that was $1, and I had to have it.  So I offer the dude 30 baht, and he shakes his head - "No, is 50."  I look down at the SIGN IN FRONT OF THE GLASSES that says:  "ALL SUNGLASSES - 30 BAHT."  I look back at the guy and give him the "do I actually need to point to the sign, or will you just admit that you couldn't rook the white guy and take my money" look, at which point he grumbles for a bit, looks at the other shopkeeper, adn then FINALLY decides that yes, I should not be the ONLY PERSON IN CHIANG MAI WHO DOESN'T GET THE ADVERTISED PRICE.  If they hadn't been exactly what I'd been looking for, I would have chucked those pieces of plastic and stormed out. 

"Fat" selecting the spices and veggies for the evening.
After that it was back to the massage place right by the hotel (see a theme forming here?), where I went for a foot massage and Jenny went with the Thai massage.  Both were excellent, and we left there VERY relaxed when it was all said and done.  It was then into the pool right quick before showering and getting picked up for the featured event of the evening (brace yourself for this) - THAI COOKING SCHOOL!!!!!  That's right, sports fans - Sammy "I can't boil water" Taylor and his beautiful, blushing bride were on their way to prepare a 5 course Thai dinner with 6 total strangers - good times.

Now I don't think it's ANY surprise that Team Taylor does little to no cooking.  Jenny whips up a stir fry or pasta from time to time, and back stateside we do break out the crock pot from time to time.  99% of the time, however, it's either a) eating out or b) Jenny making a salad whilst I eat a sandwich, half a bag of chips, and half a block of cheese (and I wonder why I look so chubby).  But call me crazy, I was REALLY excited about this.  And I will state publically - I had a BLAST.

Muffin Puffin in action at the wok - Gordon Ramsey style.  Look at those
fish cakes!  100% oil, fat, and odd parts of fish!  Yummmaaaahhhh...and
check out the guns on that girl!  Ocean swims never stood a chance!
There were 4 couples - French, German, Belgian, and American.  Throw in a Thai instructor who's name means "Fat" in Thai, and you've got a recipe for a good evening (no pun intended).  We started off with a walk over to the local markets, where "Fat" picked up all of our incredients and explained what everything was, what it did in the mixture, and why you used certain herbs in certain dishes.  It was fascinating, as I'd walked past this stuff a billion times without EVER knowing what it was.  It was then back to the cooking school, where we donned our aprons and the chaos began.

So here's how it works - you pick 5 dishes, and then you whip them up one at a time, cooking them at your own personal wok, and then bring it back to eat.  Here's how Team Taylor rolled:
Jala posing with the sea crabs we used for "flavoring" in our
papaya salads.  She's the one I about set on fire 30 or 40 times...

The Bull:  Papaya Salad (spicy!), penang curry (the curry and the dish are considered 2 separate items), hot and sour soup, cashew nut chicken

The Striker:  Fish cakes, hot and sour soup, green curry, chili prawns

The entire night was HILARIOUS.  Jenny was WAY better than me (shocking, that), and I felt really bad for the Belgian gal (Jala) beside me, as I a) about set her on fire with hot oil 10 seconds into the first dish, and b) was a screaming lunatic when I rubbed red chili in my eye at one point in the evening.  Let me tell you - I would rather be WATERBOARDED than do that again.  My eye and hand felt like I'd put them in "the box" featured in Dune for about 6 hours.

3.5 hours later, stuffed to the point of explosion, we bid farewell to the cooking school and did what you do on a Friday night in Thailand (or any other country outside of the Middle East for that matter) - hit the bars!  Jenny knew a street that she and Yazz had visited during their time here, but she did warn me that it was a bit, well, scuzzy.  WOW.  Understatement of the century.

All smiles despite 20 minutes of swinging that 50 pound
grinding stone to make green curry - honestly, could she be
any cuter?
So as many of you know, Thailand gets a reputation for being something of a sexual playground.  And whilst Pattaya has the market cornered and Bangkok offers all the ping pong shows you can handle, Chiang Mai was pretty bad.  We are talking TONS of old, wrinkled, HUGE white dudes running around, all with 1 or 2 young, thin Thai girls just fawning over them.  Each bar was guarded by about 20 girls (all between 18-20) dressed in skin tight black outfits, looking as though they were ready to devour you.  I mean, I'm definitely not gonna win sexiest man alive anytime soon, but some of those dudes running around would have made "The Mummy" look like Bradley Cooper.  Consequently, I was a little concerned one of these girls was going to scratch Jenny's eyes out.  But then we found a sight for sore eyes - the Chiang Mai Saloon.  In a word - AWESOME.

So this place was JUST great - good drinks that were ice cold, plenty of atmosphere, and even a list of "You might be Taliban if..." quotes in the bathroom (some were bloody brilliant).  At one point, there were two guys talking at the bar, and one of them (American) said, "Honestly, you can't really tell any difference between Scotch and Jack Daniels."  I tried, readers, I really did - but I just won't stand for that shit.  And so I leaned over and politely explained to the guy about oak aging, charcoal mellowing, the reasons you use oak and maintain a cooperage on site, and why single distilled is WAY better than smoking the flavor, which is why I prefer JD to Scotch.  I did concede that Jameson's and their triple distilling method was better and smoother than JD and probably a better whisky, even though I preferred Middle TN's aqua vitae.  There was an Irish dude beside us who'd been mum the whole time, but when I gave propss to Middleton, he lit up like a Christmas tree and offered me a toast.

The highlight for this guy (but maybe not any of the other patrons) came when a local walked in with his guitar and just sat down and started playing.  At first folks were just sitting around enjoying it.  But then, for the second time this year - memories of my father struck again.

I'm sitting there with my Chang when all of a sudden I hear, "I'm runnin' down the road tryin' to loosen my load..." and I perk up like a Jack Russell Terrier.  I try to contain myself, but, well, the guy is sitting RIGHT BESIDE ME, and I just can't stop.  I wait until it the sacred moment, and then in tribute to my father I put my hand on the guy's shoulder and SCREAM:  "I'm standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see.  It's a GIRL my Lord, in a flat bed Ford, slowin' down to take a look at me..."  All of sudden - I have a new best friend.

"We haven't had that spirit here since...1969..."
The guy finishes this song and then whips out his playlist.  Now granted, most of it was in Thai, but I can now confirm that Sammy the Bull has officiall performed "Hotel California," "Be With You," and "Desperado" live in concert.  I haven't received any calls from recording studios in Thailand yet, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

It was then back to the hotel, where we passed out at 1 AM.  After all, we had a big day on Saturday - but that will just have to keep until tomorrow.

On a side note, I discovered the song "Jet Lag" by Simple Plan tonight.  I think it pretty much sums up the last month without Muffin Puffin.  I LOVE YOU, PUMPKIN!!!!! 

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat tomorrow!


Sam and (newly friends with a Dutch girl named Helena and now a veteran of the "Manly to the Spit 10K walk" - and home in just 2 more sleeps!) Jenny

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