Sunday, 31 March 2013

kao nio ma muang .... anyone?

More of that later when I talk about the day at the Cookery School.

Well, I thought 40 degrees high enough, but I have now experienced 43 - a wopping 109 fahrenheit.   Too hot!   this week, it's difficult to be out of aircon between about 12 & 4 so having to have pm siesta.   just how much hotter can it get?

Highlights of this last week .......

Checked out a hotel swimming pool.   Hotel quite snazzy but pool area seen better days although pool itself clean and very refreshing.  Apparently, unless living by the sea, Thais don't learn to swim  - probably because it cost us 150 bahts each to go in (remember mimimum wage is officially 350 bahts a DAY).

Hit Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.   A mega giant market.  Think Birmingham Bullring markets times 20 and some!   As with markets all over the world, lots of stalls selling the same things, lots of fake and lots of tack.   On the other hand, loads of colour and unusual bits & bods and some real gems at ....for us Westerners .... ridiculously low prices - and, yes, haggling is encouraged!   Pity I don't have a strong man any more to carry extra luggage for the journey home.

Pick a colour, any colour - cute baby shoes in Lanna style

"Ooh La Lah Honey Bread"  - a kind of posh bread & butter pudding.  Oozing with honey and dripping cream with big blodge of ice cream, topped with bananas and toasted flaked almonds.  Yummy Yummy, as the Thais would say!

Day at the Thai Farm Cookery School with Amy.   It was excellent .... hard work, fun, educational and Yummy!
We were picked up at my hotel about 8.50 .... oh no!   The heave-oh into the back of the truck was not pretty.   I've only got short legs and I can tell you, it was higher than me (almost!) .   Still, had to be done.    After we had gone about 20 mins, stopped at a food market.  Fascinating.   Our lady Thai teacher took us around a few stalls explaining and showing us Thai herbs, spices, sauces (where we kept getting splattered with fish water and god only knows what else as the woman on stall behind us was battering to submission fish chosen by customers with a big hunk of wood).  We then moved onto rice tales and then "a million things they do with coconuts" which I then was chewing for hours!   Then we had 15 mins to explore on our own.   Hucknall Market -  you could learn a thing or two!   Think the most "wonderful" items for sale were crispy frogs followed closely by fried maggots (there were probably other contenders but, sorry, couldn't identify which species of edible insects.   No, we didn't sample - didn't want to spoil our appetite for other things coming later.

Our Thai cookery teacher with all the sauces we used

Green, red and yellow curry paste

Chewing on fresh minced coconut... for hours...

Pickled........ some....thing......

Horrific meat

Huge bags of pork scratchings

Fried insects, yum yum

Tea and coffee stall

Lurid Thai .... desserts?

Back in the truck (oh, and the nice driver obviously didn't want to detour via the hospital to get me un-dislocated, so had found me a step to climb up into the truck).   About 30 mins later, after driving through countryside, we arrived at the farm.    No time for a rest - straight to work pounding our pessels to make the sauce for our chosen curry.    We had chosen from a list of what we wanted to cook when we booked the trip.    But before we got down to other dishes we were took on a guided tour around their herb, fruit and vegetable gardens - picking, smelling and tasting.

So, by the end of the day, I had made and eaten:

kaeng kiao waan gai   (green curry with chicken)   not too keen
tom yam kung  (soup with scrimps)   delicious
gai phad met mamuang him mapaan  (fried chicken with cashews) delicious
pad thai  (fried noodles)  took back for Andy who said it was good
kao nio ma muang (sticky rice with mango)  to die for!

Really great day, and would like to do back in UK if I can find the ingredients.  Apparently you can find most in an Asian supermarket.

Mango with sticky rice and coconut sauce - a tasty Thai dessert

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

more car & moped weaving

How much  do things cost here?  Here is a snapshot:

basic Thai rice or noodle dinner - 70p
pizza - £3
cup coffee - 70p
dozen eggs - 50p
diesel - 66p
bottle wine - £18
cinema ticket - £3
can coke - 30p
litre Thai beer - £1'10
sleeper train with air con from Chiang Mai to Bangkok (480 miles) £18 takes 14 hours
air fare from Bangkok to Chiang Mai £56 takes one hour

You can get lots of Western food and drink but it's very expensive.  In the local "posh" supermarket they sell quite a lot of Waitrose own brand stuff.  It's only been in last year or so that "proper" milk has been available - an awful lot of tinned condensed milk is used!  The only cheese is all imported (cheese is the one food that Amy really misses).  Thai bread is sweet and a lot of their food is salty.

In January 2013, a new national law was enacted - minimum wage of £8 a day (yes, a day).  Officially this has resulted in a lot of redundancies - but I guess the reality is that many people are paid less.  I have only seen one beggar - an old lady who sits on the pavement by the nearest indoor shopping mall.

Chiang Mai is the second city of Thailand and it's very odd walking around as rich live side by side with "middles" and the poor.  property ranges from beautiful houses, blocks of apartments, bungalows and hovels.  there doesn't seem to be any planning laws!

For me, there are two definite downsides to Chiang Mai - (1) pavements are either non-existent or in an appalling condition so you really have to look where you are putting your feet.  Where there is a pavement, the step down onto the road is huge or long & slopey!   Second downside is rubbish heaped up at side of side roads although it is collected quite often - litter bins are very very few and far between.

I have got more used to traffic.  mopeds and cars just weave around you.  luckily on side roads they don't go very fast.  Good job cos there is definitely no adherence to any traffic rules (ha ha, i am assuming there are some!).   Crossing main roads is like taking the walk of death!   Zebra crossing?  Yes they exist - but i am still working out why!   Traffic lights?  Yes there are some and, yes, some drivers do seem to know why the pretty lights keep flashing different colours, others only see green!   However,  if you're brave enough, you just dodge between traffic and obviously some car drivers don't want a red spottie paint job, so they do stop.   That happens when I'm out with Amy - you'd laugh as i kind of hold on to her and follow in tow as we both hurry across, bobbing our heads up & down, looking in direction of driver and praying you don't trip up cos you're not looking where you're putting your feet (Thai way of saying "thank you so much for not flattening me flatter than flat").   AND, I've now worked it out why Thai people don't walk anywhere!   Clue - nothing to do with hotness.

No photos with this post as I am doing it on my Kindle Fire (a fantastic piece of kit).  i can read books, play music and use internet (free WiFi in my room).  Whilst writing this,  I'm listening to Ken Bruce on Radio 2!   But can't upload from my camera so I'll post again soon - including account of day Amy and I spent at a Thai cookery school- with photos (have to use Amy's computer for that)

I know you are all in midst of bitter cold, ice and snow so I'm sending you sun, sun and even more sun.  Keep warm and safe.

Friday, 22 March 2013

40 degrees centigrade (104 in old money!)

Really, it was on Wed 13 March and the "coolest" it gets overnight is 23 degree C (74 F).  I must admit it's lovely not to be bungled up with thermals and 3 pairs of socks.  I put my washing out on the balcony dripping wet and it's bone dry in an hour!

Wednesday evening 13 March
Went to the Square of Despair ...... not its official name!  Westerners who live in Chiang Mai have given it this descriptive name as, apparently, after about 2 in the morning, you will see why!  This delightful place is wall-to-wall bars arranged - yes you've guessed it - in a square.  We went to see a Spanish guitarist making music with a young Thai lad playing violin.  They were superb.  But it all went a bit downhill for me after that with live heavy rock bands - but it was good  see Amy and her friend Rosie (who Amy originally went to live in Thailand with) letting her hair down.  no doubt Dai would have shown them a thing or two about head banging!

Thursday 14 March
Quiet day sewing & reading & contemplating

Friday 15 March
Went to Chiang Mai Zoo.  Lovely day.  The zoo is spread over 100s of acres so cos of that and boiling hot day, we purchased tickets to ride from section to section on a "hop on, hop off bus"'   Highlight of the day was the Panda House with 3 pandas.  Other good bits were the rhino, elephants & baby, giraffes & baby, big cats.  At  most places you could pay to feed the animals (including giving the jaguar a lump of raw meat on a stick).  I cannot agree to doing this personally but plenty of people were - including a monk feeding the jaguar.  I could have spent loads more time in the Bird Garden - so many beautiful, so colourful birds.  Amy made me say that she took all the photos ;)

Saturday 15 March
Ordered and paid for a crushed ice coffee without Amy - first time!  Lots of  smiles and sign language.  Delicious and cost about 50 pence for what we would call "large".

That evening met Amy, Andy &Rosie and went to an Italian restaurant for their "drink as much wine as you like" night.  unfortunately only from 6.30 till 8.  However, of course, we managed to drink our five pounds worth each quite easily and jolly quaffable wine it was too!   Wine in Thailand is very expensive so you can't pass on an offer like that now, can you?  we all had pizza to eat.  Outside under a canopy in the restaurant garden.

What about the mossies, I hear you shout.  Yes, the bitey buggers are about (especially dusk to dawn) but the malaria carrying ones are not in most of Thailand, so I am not having to take anti-malaria drugs.  Have had to be vaccinated against tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A & B.  Next hep jab in 2 weeks and then third & last in August.   The private hospital Amy took me to for jabs is very efficient and cost me 4 pound to see the doctor for vaccinations prescriptions and he spoke pretty good English.

It's quite odd about the mossie bites though.  Yes I have them, but nowhere as many as I feared but even odder is that (apart from one) they don't itch!  Now, for me, that's really odd!

I can't let today go by without mentioning the rugby.  You know, when Wales smashed England 30 to 3 in Six Nations final !   Dai would have been ecstatic!  His bottle of Welsh single malt would have taken some hammering   Proud Dragon indeed!!!!

Electrician at work, 3 stories up.  Health and safety... what!?

How sad it is that Thai girls spend money on trying to whiten themselves while we  English folk spend money trying to get a tan!  When buying toiletries, you have to be careful not to buy those with bleach in!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Mothers Day in Thailand

Thursday March 7

First temple visit.  Thailand is a Buddist country although so far I have also seen Christian and Seventh Day Adventist churches.  There are over 200 Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai so for starters, Amy took me to her favourite which is also one of the smallest.  Even so, it was quite amazing with the amount of decorative statues of Buddha, dragons, elephants (& various others who I hope to learn) - masses of gold, silver, every other colour, all twinkling and flashing.  All the pillars, doors, ceilings, all intricately designed with scrolling patterns - and that was just the temple.  There are other smaller buildings and shrines and trees with orange & yellow ribbons wrapped around the trunks & woven around the branches.

Whilst in the temple, a monk beckoned us over.  We knelt in front of him and he gave us both a sort of wrist bracelet made of white thread with a small golden bead which he put on us whilst chanting a prayer or blessing.  We have to keep them on till after Songkran in mid April.  Songkran is celebration of Thai New Year, lasts for three days and everyone throws water at everyone else from buckets, water pistols, hoses - any kind of water carrier!  Amy tells me that you walk around completely drenched all day long.

There are some rules to obey when visiting a temple: you have to be dressed appropriately with legs covered to past knees, no bare shoulders or cleavage on display; shoes off and don't point your feet at Buddha.

Rules for visiting a temple (click to see a larger image so you can read it)

After the temple visit we had to go to the Far Eastern University for Amy to enrol on a Thai Culture 4 day course.  All foreign teachers have to do this once within 2 years of teacher employment to retain their work permit & the course is usually only in Bangkok so Amy didn't want to miss the opportunity of attending in Chiang Mai.

We then mozied around a huge modern shopping centre with all the usual worldwide corporate shops - mainly cos air con blasting out and early pm is obviously hottest part of the day!

Then a funny thing happened on my way to Amy's that evening!  It seems to me that Thailand is a place of smiles, sunshine, rice, temples and ..... mopeds.  There must be a trillion, zillion, million just in Chiang Mai and one stopped right by me and a Thai lady voice said "you want ride?"  No way" I thought, having visions of being sold for 10 bags of rice.  "No thank you.  I am going to my daughter's house" was my polite response.  "I know" she said.  WOW I am famous (or should that be ' infamous'?) - must be the instigator of the new fashion in headwear - the bright red flannel.  Then it all became clear.  "I live next door to daughter and I see you."  Well, how could I appear churlish?  "I go verrry slow" she said - was my terror so obvious?  So I clumsily climbed on board (never ever rode on a motorised two wheeler before) and got off at my destination (about 3 mins later) feeling like Biker Girl Extraordinaire!!!

Friday, March 8
Visited a bigger temple within Chiang Mai old city.  Incidentally, around the old city is a canal which they call 'the moat'.  No narrowboats on it, and come to that, no other boats either!  Difficult to find words to describe the temple... so some photos below.

Saturday 9 March
In the evening we all went to a free outdoor international music concert at The Three Kings Square.  The best parts were a Japanese couple called Yurai and a truly international drumming band called Drums United.

Sunday 10 March
Mothers Day!  Best one ever as I'm here spending the day with Amy which hasn't happened for at least 4 years.  They gave me a beautiful pink flower arrangement of lillies, carnations, roses and orchids - yes, real orchids!  They're stunning here.  We spent the day at the temple atop Doi Suthep - a very high mountain!  Again, I was overwhelmed by the temple sights.

At the entrance to the temple, you have a choice.  Either turn right and take the cable car or left for the 307 steps up to the temple.  Guess which way we went!  And to prove it, here I am taking my morning constitutional!

At intervals going up little hill tribe children are ready to have their photograph taken with you and then give you the internationally known gesture for 'money money!'

Fortunately, Amy's been here before so all the photos I have of hill tribe kids were surreptitiously taken by Amy taking photos of "me" or "the view"!  I must admit, Amy took some super photos as the children were unposed.  Here's a few more.  Her favourite is last.

This fabulous day was rounded off nicely with... no rice!  We all went to a fancy Italian restaurant and had pizza.

Monday 11, Tuesday 12, Wednesday 13
Quiet days spent sitting on my balcony or in the hotel garden courtyards sewing and reading with evening meals eaten with Amy and Andy.

Yes - it is still HOT and getting HOTTER every day.  Cannot imagine what April (the hottest month of the year) is going to be like.

For us, there are three ways to get about.  Walking (which Thais don't do much), red cars and tuk tuks.  Just for Ethan, here is a photo of one and to clarify, they don't have a set route, you just tell them where you want to go, they say yes or no, you jump in the the back and jump out when you get there - picking other people on the way if they're going in a similar direction!  Most journeys are 20 baht (about 40p), more if you want to go a longer way.  Tuk tuks seat three people "sensibly".  They are a bit more expensive than red cars because they can't pick up any more people, so take you straight to your destination.  They go FAST, nipping in and out other vehicles and you feel like you're falling out all the time as you go round a bend on two of the three wheels.

Red car

Tuk tuk