Monday, January 10, 2011

Thailand: Bangkok and Chiang Mai

The first time we flew into Thailand, in 1978, we could see pagodas far below rising out of squares of green padi, then a big sprawling city, and thump we were down and the airplane door opened and the thick warm, then hot tropical air filling the cabin with Asia and my mind flashing back and now, ahhh.

Food! Let's talk about food. Thailand and Food – it’s a lifestyle!

Wednesday: “American breakfast” from hotel buffet included in the cost of the room – egg, bacon, toast, preserves, pineapple, watermelon, coffee – not great; lunch: ground pork stir-fried with chilies, red curry (chicken), satay, rice, and (as with every other meal) massive quantities of prik nam pla (fish sauce and little very hot chilies) and assorted other

chili-based condiments; dinner: Indian set, including chicken tika masala, dhal, raita, potatoes with dry peppers, rice, cilantro and other chutneys. Photo: She's fixing mango with sticky rice

Thursday: pad see eu (fried flat noodles with Chinese greens, like chow fun) and coffee; lunch: green curry (chicken), ground pork with chilies, rice, pad thai (fried rice noodle with shrimp, peanuts, tofu, bean sprouts), ice coffee; dinner: grilled chicken, papaya salad (shreds of green papaya pounded with peanuts, green beans, fish sauce, etc.), sticky rice, bad sausage from a street vendor (took one bite, no mas).

Friday: American breakfast (because street vendors near hotel gone); fried bananas, lunch: green curry, chicken with cashews and dry mild chilies, pork satay; dinner: grilled chicken & pork, papaya salad, peanuts, sticky rice.

Saturday: American breakfast (still no nearby street food); lunch: tom yum with shrimp (piquant multi-taste sour soup), red curry, ground pork

with chilies and green beans, rice; dinner: salad bar (ahhh) with romaine, mild peppers, etc. + Chiang Mai sausage (spicy, citrusy, cilantro grilled sausage) naan. Photo: bowl of red curry, satay, prik nam pla, ground pork with chilies

Sunday (travel day to Chiang Mai): Getting tired of the so-called American breakfast; lunch: “tripnic” (sandwiches); checked in to hotel and headed for Sunday street market and dinner of mango with sticky rice with coconut milk, chicken and pork satay, more mango and sticky rice, a little bit more mango and sticky rice, a little bit more …, crispy, tasty French fries(?).

Monday: Vegetarian hotel buffet – cereal with banana, pancake, vegetables, potato fritter, coffee; lunch: khao sawy (a Shan noodle curry soup with chicken, crispy things, pickled cabbage, shredded cabbage, shallots, basil, cilantro, and so on), pad Thai, iced coffee; dinner: chicken panaeng curry (“dry” fried curry)

with citrus leaves, peanuts, and rice, a little bit more mango, sticky rice, and coconut milk (did I mention that it’s sweet coconut milk?), salad. Photo: Khao soi stand (or in this case khow soy)

Tuesday: More vegetarian buffet – cheese toast, vegetables, cereal with banana; lunch: chicken with ginger on rice, pad see eu, a little bit more mango, sticky rice and coconut milk; dinner: khao sawy (it’s spelled several ways) again – even better this time, papaya salad with little dry shrimps, salad, roti with banana and sweetened condensed milk from the Muslim man and woman selling from a sidewalk stand outside a Buddhist temple.

Wednesday: Vegetarian buffet with good mushroom soup, yogurt, corn flakes with banana,

coffee; lunch: chicken panaeng, rice, pork satay served the old-fashioned way with peanut sauce and cucumbers and onion, khao sawi, a little bit more mango with sticky rice and coconut milk, ice coffee. To me, the best meal so far. We ate at the huge food court in the basement of the Airport Central Mall, a quintessential Thai place with endless stands selling everything imaginable and few foreigners, except one expat type who told me that the panaeng I was ordering is the best in Chiang Mai. Photo above: Papaya salad and khao soi

Check this out: the panaeng with rice was 30 baht, as was the satay, and also the mango with sticky rice; the khao soi was 25 baht and was the best so far, so we’re talking the supreme Thai feast for <$4 for 2 people!!! And, I hadn’t wanted to go on this expedition – I was just going along to get along (like when Leslie goes to REI); and for dinner, sitting tired in our room a little bit more mango, etc. and how about some banana roti, and salad for the virtuous among us. Photo above: Panaeng and satay; Photo below: curry and so much more

And so it went, meal after meal …

Walking through the small streets of moat-surrounded old Chiang Mai City, thinking that somewhere around where we are today we

were in 1978 only funkier then and remembering sitting in an open-air cafĂ© (rice with two curries for 20 baht and served with lime-infused prik nam pla) with a mouse running along a wall and outside a dog vomiting on the sidewalk and everywhere around here then and now temples and pagodas with dogs and cats hanging around the grounds tolerated and ignored and back then they were a scabrous, mangy lot with heavy parasite loads and now much healthier and better fed or at least not so skinny and in my life I’ve seen a temple or two – from the tiny one somewhere near the DMZ that Jeff and I went into

during a lull in the fighting during Operation Deckhouse to the Cao Dai extravaganza in Danang to all the ones with Leslie, from the breathtaking Shwedagon to the Old Moulmein Pagoda where I sat exactly where Kipling's beautiful Burma girl, Supiyawlat sat,“lookin’ lazy at the sea” to the crumbling chedis rising endlessly across the deserted plains of Pagan (now called Bagan) to Mahamuni in Mandalay and then the hills of Sagaing with so many white and gold payas to Swayambhunath with its mysterious eyes looking across the Kathmandu Valley and the prayer wheels spinning and prayer flags fluttering and the pilgrims and hippies and monks to the jumbled ruins of Angkor

and behind the temples we’re slow-walking through the heat with traditional trance music drifting though the forest and ruins to Wat Tuol Tom Pong with all the poor young men living in the open dorms beneath the bot (central sanctuary) and whether the temples and wats are fully active or not, always the monks with shaved heads and orange or gold or brown or dark red and occasionally grey robes and sometimes umbrellas and sometimes alms bowls which are a far cry from “begging bowls” since giving alms is merit for the giver, not the monk and sometimes there are nuns, wearing white or pink robes and really, many of these child monks

are orphans or from families too poor to feed them and now through these lanes in Chiang Mai as one after another white and gold stupas rise elegant in shaded quiet temple grounds (one, Wat Chiang Man, had a little store selling water and snacks and robes etc. for monks, including the shoulder bags and when I asked the woman running the store how much a bag costs, she smiled in a friendly way and said, “No” and I thought, cool) and here we are again and yes, we’ve seen some wats, some temples, some chedis, some pagodas and I’m hoping to see a few more.

One of the pleasures in traveling is reading – for me, nothing deep, just good old page-turners. So far I’ve read Gai-Jin, another great Clavell travel read; most of Kerouac’s Big Sur (I quit after reading about 90%, not enjoying the dissolution of a formerly great writer); The Quiet American by Graham Greene, which, although written in the early 1950s, captured the Vietnam War as about as well as any other book; WatershipDown – oh what a great book; Rats, a good book about, what else, rats; Pale Horse Coming, an uber violent book

We went to the amulet market in Bangkok via the #25 bus.

Fortunately, the wrong (blue) #25 bus passed us by because the driver let some people off before the bus stop and then wouldn’t stop for us. A woman who saw what happened engaged Leslie in conversation, learned where we were going and told Leslie that she was going the same way to pray at a temple a stop or two before where we wanted to go. So we followed her to the right (red, or as she said, “led”) #25 bus, which took us to within a few blocks of the amulet market near a water taxi pier. Had she not helped us it would have been a very long day. Photo: Outside the amulet market


Plenty of wild and ca-razy guys around, wearing shorts, Chang and other beer-logo t-shirts and escorting their young prostitutes here and there, filling the other 23 hours with shopping ...

Amazingly pushy French guys at Bangkok airport (Leslie muttering, well, I won’t say what she was muttering). Photo: The extra nice bus stop near our hotel

People who’ve helped us: the woman on her way to pray and got us on the right #25; the Indian man who gave us a lot of information on riding the bus; a man who asked us where we were going as we walked down a tiny lane near the amulet market, and then redirected us; three women at a food court – one who got up from her seat to tell me where to find utensils, another who helped Leslie order, and

another who sent a friend around and out of the way to show me where to order khao soi; the school teacher who tried to explain that Skytrain stops are on the back of the card and then when Leslie (independently) figured that out I asked the man if that was what he was telling me and he said yes; and many more people helping and sweet - about 4-5 people helping and nice for every one lying and so on. Photo: On the bus - the one with a teak floor

Sports TV from Japan: Women wrestlers and a totally stolid audience (the kind of Japanese people spending an evening at the rasslin' match; then a few minutes of scantily clad babes playing a sort of football. Uh-huh.

And now I’m just about out of steam. Fever and feeling bad for a night and a day and a night. Up and at them again today for one more amulet market and gold store run. Headed to Hong Kong tomorrow. Photo: The old people's band, playing at the walking market in Chiang Mai

Finally, two nights ago I dreamed the essence of Leslie. What an amazing beautiful experience that was! Her Mom was there, too, and that was nice.


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