A regular day in Chiang Mai…and what the heck is a bum gun?
November 25, 2016
Not every day is filled with festivals and Wats. Some are just a regular day in Chiang Mai. I’ll get to the bum gun part later.
Errands on my own
Chiang Mai Photographic Group
I finally feel like I know my way around well enough to venture out on foot by myself. I walked a couple of km to the Chiang Mai Photographic Group on Wednesday night. There were about 15 members in attendance, mostly from Europe. All were men, except for Malonie, another new member from British Columbia, and me. We spent the first part of the evening watching some video tips on using Lightroom for photo editing. That is one of my winter projects already, so I was glad for the new ideas. There was also a little discussion on equipment. I can’t believe the number of lenses and cameras some of these people have. I have 1 body and 2 lenses but I’m still pretty new to this.
We spent the second half of the evening looking at photos that everyone had brought to share. They were on a large screen and a couple of the members led the discussion. The pictures were shot all over the world, including Thailand, and some of them were spectacular. There seems to be quite a lot of time spent editing to make the pictures perfect. They also commented on being past taking pictures of monks, wats and food buthat won’t deter me from continuing to take pictures of the things that make Chiang Mai interesting and unique to me.
I shared a shot of Moraine Lake from June and one of Mt. Assiniboine from July. The critiques had been pretty specific up to this point, but they didn’t have anything to say about either of them. The thing I liked was that both of my pictures had almost no editing done to them. I know how to take mountain pictures and they are such a good subject to work with. I will certainly learn a lot from this group as long as I keep an open mind and don’t take the feedback too personally.
Camera Lens Repair
I have had problems with my zoom lens recently. The auto-focus motor doesn’t always seem to turn the focus ring properly and it makes a terrible squeal. A club member suggested a repair place and had a name and address sent to me by facebook by the time I walked home. I looked it up on Maps and it seemed to be just over 2 km from here.
I am retired, after all, so I didn’t have anything more pressing to do. I headed off, armed with my hat, water bottle, sturdy shoes, money belt and camera-toting day pack. Most importantly, I had a small paper map and the location on Google Maps on my phone, as well as a screenshot of the route in Google Keep. Maps uses a lot of power and heats up my phone, but I had an extra charger pack which was useful later in the day.
It takes a lot of energy to walk in Chiang Mai. I will have some pictures on another day of all the things you find on the sidewalk here, but suffice it to say, sidewalks are not meant for pedestrians. Wheelchairs or walkers would be impossible. Almost everyone here travels by scooter. You often have to step onto the road to get around scooters and food carts parked on the sidewalk, or step into the traffic lane to get around a parked car next to the impassable sidewalk.
The pavement is uneven and the curbs are high. You see many tourists with bandages on their knees, me included. This happens when you start to look around too much and miss a high spot, a low spot, or a starfruit fallen from the tree hiding in the leaves.
Observations from my walk
Although walks here are not opportunities for reflection like they are on the walking trail at home, I did notice a few things.
- Scooter riders here look completely at ease, even when riding with a baby sitting on the driver’s shoulders with mom holding her in place from behind
- Some streets just have a row of tailors, working in rooms open to the street. Some of the hand work was done by people sitting on the floors
- Other streets have a row of hair dressers, one shop after another
- In Thailand you take your shoes off before entering a home. I saw a Ballroom and Latin Dance studio with a pair of shoes left outside. What do you dance in?
- Walking through lanes of cars stopped for a light is not only acceptable but recommended
- A man with a disfigured foot limping down the sidewalk had the biggest smile and hello for me
- Just when you realize you are the only white face in a neighborhood, someone will suddenly approach you in a red shirt with CANADA written across the front.
- The neighborhood around the mosque sold more headscarves and served halal food in the restaurants
- When you get lost and wander down a dead-end lane and end up in someone’s yard, no one seems concerned.
- There are some quiet boulevards that look like they are from any North American small town with traffic moving one way on each side with small stores alongside.
- The western style grocery stores will offer to check your other bags for you while you shop
- A fruit vendor with ice-cold bags of cut up papaya appears on a seemingly deserted street just when you need a little sustenance
AV Camera and Lens Repair
I overshot one street but did find the repair store. He tested the lens and declared he could fix it for about 1900 baht, or $70. That seemed a lot better than a new one. His assistant spoke a little more English and made up an invoice and wanted a phone number. I have a phone number here, but only a small credit on my plan to use it. I have unlimited data and wifi at the apartment so I asked her to email me when it was ready. After lots of Thai/English, Thai/Thai back and forth, I determined that the best way is to Facebook message them and they will use Facebook to let me know when it is ready, but I did record their phone number, just in case. I was glad I had the recommendation from the Photo club. It’s the kind of issue anyone in a new place must face when leaving their personal things with someone.
I returned a headset at the mall for Peter. It took 3 young clerks to understand my gestures that we had a computer with a single hole for headset/microphone and their headset had 2 separate plugs. I did apologize for not knowing more Thai. The service was wonderful. One of the staff took me to the customer service, offered me a chair and waited with me until the transaction was complete. Tourists are exempt from some of the VAT so I had to provide the picture of my passport as well to make sure the totals were correct.
After one more stop for milk and a Thanksgiving gift of a package of English White bread of only 4 slices in a package, I walked to a main street looking for transportation home. A tuk tuk was stopped at a red light so I ran across 3 lanes of traffic and piled in. He dropped me right at my gate for $3.78 or 100 baht.
Google Maps timeline
Here is a copy of my travels.
You can see where I got lost, the dead end lane and the journey in the tuk tuk. I actually walked a little farther than it shows, but the route is accurate. This feature is in the Google Maps app under timeline. You can see each day on a calendar. In a new place, it is great to see where you have been each day. Sometimes we forget names of places we want to return to and can find them on these maps. You can add notes of your own and confirm the places you were. There is a list below the map for each part of your journey. When I enter the locations I want, Maps gives me the distance in km so I’m not sure why this timeline map is only in miles. Fortunately, I am still bilingual in metric and imperial. Except for the overheating issue with Maps, I don’t know if I would feel so confident heading out on my own in a country that speaks a language not familiar to me. Many of the street signs are only in Thai so navigating with just a map would be so much more difficult
This is not related to my walk, but it is not really related to anything and it came up in our apartment Happy Hour group discussion yesterday. Take a look at the pictures from our apartment bathroom (and really any bathroom we have seen in Chiang Mai). See if you can guess how barbaric toilet paper is compared to this system.
Have you got it? After describing the squat toilets in China, and thinking that was going to be the way of toilets in all of Asia, we were pleasantly surprised to find this set up in our apartment. There is a sign on the elevator for newcomers that is very clear that toilet paper is not to be put into the toilet, at all. I had heard that before we left and wasn’t looking forward to having a garbage can open in our bathroom for that. We were also told to bring toilet paper with us since the apartment didn’t provide any. I did that, but still.
Once I saw these hoses in all the bathrooms here, I finally googled Thai toilet hose and got the instructions I needed. What a wonderful tool. In our apartment, only the shower has a hot water heater. All the other taps send out room temperature water. That is great for the bum gun here. I talked to a Californian who found one on Amazon under diaper sprayer and had it installed in their bathroom at home. I’m not sure I want the cold water of the North Saskatchewan coming through that hose at our house though. It would be a pretty quick rinse with some descriptive language I imagine.
Wat Doi Suthep- Temple on the Mountain
November 23, 2016
The Loy Krathong Festival was so fun and interesting but it wasn’t the only thing we did while Jane and Steve were visiting Chiang Mai. We also travelled up the Doi Suthep mountain to visit the temple, Wat Doi Suthep.
Crowds in Chiang Mai
Before I share some more spectacular pictures of this golden wat, I wanted to clarify something that people commented on from an earlier post. Several people thought they could never wander out with so many people crowded around. That is the thing about Chiang Mai. The people here are kind and respectful to each other and to the visitors. That attitude seems to rub off on the farangs (tourists) as well. The lantern and krathong releases were exciting but not crazy. It was not just a drunken gathering. There were police in sight but I never saw them needing to do anything except move people back from the corners where the floats needed to turn.
We missed a turn on our walk back to our apartment from festival day 2 and ended up on some unknown back streets (soi). We walked over 3 km and it was after 11 pm but felt completely safe. There were lots of locals gathered around the food carts finishing off the day’s product. We stopped in a couple of chairs for a little rest outside a shop selling purses . Right away a gentleman offered us a drink menu from the bar next door. People worry more about the odd stray dog at night than they do the people. I’m working on a post on the sidewalks and streets that will give you an idea of what we see and have to watch for when we walk.
Chiang Mai is up in the hills of Thailand at an elevation of 1020 feet. We can see forested “mountains” all around the city. Doi Suthep is the one of the highest with its summit at 5250 ft. There is a national park on the mountain with hiking trails and waterfalls. We haven’t visited those areas yet so that will be the topic of another conversation.
Buddhism in Thailand
I don’t pretend to be an expert in Theravada Buddhism, but I have learned a few things that help me understand the purpose of the many wats (temples) for which Chiang Mai is famous. Although it is based on Buddha’s teachings from India, it also includes ideas from Hindu, Tantric and Mahayana influences, like the worship of Buddha images. The belief of spirits, magic and astrology are also common in Thailand. The Thais, however, believe that the strength of their country comes from Buddhism. the monarchy and nationhood.
Thais believe in reincarnation and to reach the stage of enlightenment, or nirvana–the ultimate state of being, they need to earn merit in whatever life they are presently in. This can be earned by becoming a monk, which most boys do for some time during their life. Giving food to a monk or having a monk bless a home or child-naming can also earn merit. Being kind and respectful to others also count, as does leaving offerings to Buddha. We’ve seen small banana baskets with food or flowers left on the sidewalk, or hung from a wall.
The Buddhist rules that apply visitors have to do with being respectful. Visits to a temple expect your shoulders and knees to be covered. I brought a scarf and bought some wrap around skirts to use for this purpose. You also take off your shoes before entering a temple or anyone’s home. Women may not touch a monk, or even sit next to one on public transportation. The head is considered the most sacred part of the body so you are not to touch anyone’s head. The feet are the lowest, least sacred part so you never point your feet at someone, especially a Buddha statue. Think of the lotus position with feet tucked away. It is very disrespectful to put your feet up on a chair or table, or close a drawer etc. with your feet.
Wat Doi Suthep
The Wat on the mountain was supposedly chosen by a White Elephant. In the 1390’s the king’s elephant walked up the mountain, trumpeted and turned around 3 times and the site was selected. It is near the summit of the mountain and can be seen from the city, shining from within the forest. Fortunately there is a paved road all the way there.
Getting to Wat Doi Suthep
The most common way to get there is by songtaew. You can take one from the city to the Chiang Mai Zoo, then transfer to another one that takes a group of people up to the top. It costs about 80 Bhat, or $3.00 to get there. These vehicles are open in the back with sliding windows behind the benches. The number of tune-ups they undergo is questionable. The road is steep and full of switchbacks. The exhaust blowing into the back and steady back and forth made feel quite queasy by the time we got to the Wat.
Upon arriving, we had 304 steps to climb to arrive at the actual temple. The steps were brick but the railings were a Naga, the serpent protector of Buddha. There a couple of pre-school girls in traditional dress on the bottom steps posing for pictures. I didn’t see their parents, but apparently someone was collecting money for those who wanted to make a donation. Those girls sat there all day in the heat. I don’t know of any kids from home that would be that patient.
The climb was shaded and once at the top we took our shoes off and began to look around. The Central Chedi was completed in the 16th Century and is gold plated. The filigree umbrellas on each corner are covered with gold leaf by pilgrims. It is so bright from all the gold that it is hard to look at some of them. One of the buildings had murals depicting the life of monks from the past. There were many statues of Buddha. His hand positions can symbolize reassurance, connecting to the earth, meditation or justice, to name a few.
The thing that disappointed me about this beautiful Buddhist temple were many of the visitors. Foreign tour guides were yelling at their clients with stories about the wat. Girls were doing jump pictures. There were signs to remind people to be quiet but you couldn’t see them through all the selfie sticks. At the same time, people were doing meditation walks around the chedi, hanging bells with good wishes on the eaves and being blessed by monks. Many areas were for people on their knees saying prayers. It is real place of worship. I would not expect to see the same people behave this way in a cathedral or even a church. I felt a bit embarrassed being there at all.
I’ve started adding a few more pictures under the travel heading in the menu at the top. This will be an ongoing process now that I know how to do it. Check back.
There are no immediate plans for any visitors, so for now we continue to explore the area and enjoy the retired lifestyle of “Let’s see what the day will bring.”
Loy Krathong-Chiang Mai Festival
November 17, 2016
It’s been over a week since I shared a post. It is not because we have nothing to share. My friends Bernice and Nancy and their partners were visiting from Cambodia for a few days. I did some research for my “shopping in Chiang Mai” post as well as “where to eat in Chiang Mai”. You’ll hear more about those later. It was great to spend time with old friends in a new place.
We also met Jane and Steve Davies from Red Deer. They are not related to us, but Steve is originally from Wales and we share a mutual friend in Red Deer. They are on a 6 week tour of SE Asia and spent a few days in Chiang Mai with us. It is very easy to connect with people you know and those you don’t when you are far from home and among so many others that are far from home too.
We had a chance to experience Loy Krathong (floating Krathong) in Chiang Mai this past week. It is a festival held every year during the twelfth full moon of the year. Because of the King’s death in October, Thailand is in mourning for 100 days and big celebrations were to be subdued or cancelled. Even so, we were very impressed with the events we attended.
There are many stories and legends about the origins of this festival. It has its basis in Hindu beliefs from India but has been modified to fit with Buddhist philosophy. You can read more about it on the Chiang Mai Best web page. The basic gist of the event is an opportunity to send away your troubles and misfortune and also pay tribute to the goddess of water Phra Mae Kong Ka. The local people light little candles in clay holders and line them up along their property.
We met Jane and Steve for cold drinks near our apartment at a terra-cotta studio/coffee shop/bar/secret garden. The staff was inviting customers to join them in making a krathong.
We covered a disk of banana trunk with banana leaves. We then took strips of banana leaves and rolled them into cone shapes. A staple held the shape and a straight pin attached it to the base. These cones were arranged around the outside in 2 rows. We added a candle and 3 marigolds to the top.
Before we could take them to the river, a young woman that works here gave me 3 incense sticks to add to the krathong.
We went to the river and joined a long line of people waiting to release their own krathong into the water. Many were like ours but some were made out of colored ice cream cones. It was a calm and quiet moment as the candles and incense were lit and our krathongs joined the line of tributes gently floating down the Ping River.
People packed the bridges over the river. We were on the Iron Bridge. Many were enjoying the view of the krathongs in the water. There were a couple of proposals of marriage. The highlight was watching the huge paper lanterns float up into the air. Cheers erupted when the lantern began to sail up into the sky.
There were special lanterns at the temples that the monks carry. We saw many of them arranged on racks when we were there on Sunday. We did not see how they were used this time.
The paper lanterns were about a meter tall and about as big around as I could reach. They were paper with a set of thin wires at the bottom to hold the wax ring. When lit, the air inside the lantern heats up and when it gets hot enough, the paper sleeve floats way up into the sky, taking all your bad luck with it. The removal of bad luck supposedly works best if it disappears from sight before the fire goes out.
The best part of the lanterns was watching the expression on people’s faces as they worked together to fill the lantern with hot air, while keeping it upright. They also had to decide together at what point to let go so it would float up and not pass sideways into the crowd. Most had such joy on their faces, whether it was from the beauty of the lanterns streaming into the sky, or the release of their negative vibes.
Festival Day 2
We spent the second night of Loy Krathong at Tae Phae Gate. There was a huge parade which was unexpected because we understood that it would be cancelled for this time of mourning. It turned out the parade was a tribute to the king and the things he was involved in. The only criteria was that the floats had to be black and white, the colors of mourning in Thailand.
The American Consulate had a float that played saxophone jazz with a picture of the king in dark glasses, playing his sax. It was decorated with saxophones, musical notes and a big eagle. Stalks of Japanese lanterns led the Japanese Consulate float. In between each float were groups of walkers that were generally beautifully dressed. Most carried Krathongs or paper lanterns. The parade lasted over an hour and the streets were packed with people, especially tourists.
After the parade it was a party atmosphere. Tae Phae Gate has a large cement area for people to gather. It crosses over the moat that surrounds the old city. The moat walk is about 6.5 km so it is not an enormous inner city. There were food stands everywhere boiling up pork balls or grilling meat on a stick. Fruit and ice smoothie drinks were popular as well as glowing toys. It reminded me of when we were in Paris in 1987 and the Eiffel Tower was counting down the days until the World Cup was to be held in France that year. Free enterprise is alive and well in Chiang Mai.
We could see lanterns rising up in the sky nearby. There were several hundred people there, all working to release their lantern. Groups were sharing lighters and advice. It was a calm and joyful place. When a lantern seller showed up, there was a rush to join in.
It was our last night with Jane and Steve before they headed off to do a trip down the Mekong River so we went to a bar next to the lantern area called the Ugo Bar and Restaurant. They actually sell an IPA called Red Truck. It was the first craft beer we saw in Thailand. According to the Polish owner of the pub, it is brewed in Chiang Mai, but it can’t be sold here because of the rules set by the big beer companies. The beer is sent to Laos, then imported back into Thailand! Some rules just don’t make sense. It cost about $5.00 for a 355 ml bottle where the local brew is about $4.00 for 620 ml.
We really enjoyed being part of this local custom. It is a bit scary with the lack of regulation we are used to at home. Some lanterns weren’t hot enough and crashed into trees, light poles or other lanterns, and burst into flames. A burned out lantern landed on a woman in a pub.
Most of the participants with the lanterns seemed to be tourists (farangs) but many Thais put a Krathong into the water. The locals were busy serving the needs of all the visitors, providing food, krathongs, lanterns, drink and transportation. They would also be the ones cleaning up the lanterns after they returned to ground, clearing the river of dams of krathongs and sweeping up all the plastic they use here for food and drink.
We took a trip up the mountain to Doi Suthep. I’ll share that next. I am also working to share more pictures on the travel page in the menu. Check back in a couple of days.
Cooking the Thai Way-Our day at Thai Farm Cooking School
November 9, 2016
We booked last Friday to spend Tuesday cooking the Thai way. We chose the Thai Farm Cooking School initially from our Frodors guide-book on Thailand. There are dozens of schools in Chiang Mai, but this company picked us up at our hotel, and drove us to Ruam Chok market for a tour. We continued to the farm where we had a chance to see herbs, rice and vegetables growing. The rest of the day was spent cooking 5 different Thai dishes at individual cooking stations.
We liked the idea of getting to see more of the area, especially the countryside. A tour of a market would make our shopping easier while we are here so we can better identify fruits, vegetables and other products. There were 11 in our class today. Two were retirees from Australia and the others were all younger people from the USA who are avid travellers.
Ruam Chok Market is located just north of the city and was clean and well laid out. It was inside a building but was packed with stalls. Our guide, Garnet, grew up in Chiang Mai. She was so personable as well as being an accomplished cook and master teacher. We began by learning about the differences between coconut water, milk and cream. The water is the liquid found inside the coconut itself. The milk and cream come from the coconut meat that is grated and pressed. The cream is the thickest and the milk is diluted with water.
They had buckets of rice for sale. We discussed the difference between jasmine rice (khao jaw), which is the kind most often used in Thailand, and sticky rice (khao neow). Jasmine is long grain and cooked in water. It is served with most meals we have had here. Sticky rice is very starchy and has to be soaked overnight then steamed until it is translucent. It will stick to itself and is rolled into balls and dipped into sauces or mixed with coconut milk and served with mango for dessert.
We saw packages of dried tamarind for making Pad Thai sauce. Garnet showed us the different forms of palm sugar they use. One was soft like fudge and the other dried like lumps of brown sugar. Many items in the market are more familiar now, but there are still hundreds of items that I have no idea about.
Our group had a short time to look around. I saw enormous bags of dried chilis, dried and grilled fish, fruits like durian and dragon fruit, vegetables too numerous to count and more eggs than I know what to do with. Eggs are just set out on shelves here. They are not found in the refrigerator section.
The farm was northwest of Chiang Mai. The van took us down a few windy roads to get there. I wouldn’t be able to find it on my own. Many of the ingredients we were going to use are grown on the farm. We inspected and tasted Thai basil and Holy basil, Thai parsley, coriander and Kafir lime leaves. We saw papayas, pandan leaves, bitter eggplants and sweet ones which grow on small bushes, as well as different kinds of peppers growing on the plants. A field of rice was growing there and we could see the seeds forming. They grow all of their crops organically so we were encouraged to taste everything, or at least pick it and smell it.
We got to select whether to make green, yellow or red curry paste for our first project. I thought the different colors represented different amounts of heat, but each color can be as hot as you want to make it by the number of bird’s-eye peppers added. The kinds of peppers used determine the color and the flavor. Yellow and red also contain Indian curry powder to brighten the color. Yellow has the addition of a chunk of yellow turmeric root. All of the pastes had shallots, kaffir lime rind, galangal, lemongrass, Thai ginseng, cumin seeds and coriander seeds. We used a large stone mortar and pestle to crush the ingredients together. It took about 5 minutes of hard work to make a nice smooth paste. We moved it to a small bowl and added some vegetable oil to it which helps it keep its color. The layers of flavour in this curry paste was like tasting the reserve red wines at Beringer a couple of weeks ago.
Thai cooking strives to create dishes that are sweet, sour, salty, spicy, chewy and crunchy. Since so many fresh herbs are used, cooking needs to be done quickly to preserve the essential oils and flavors. In restaurants we have had my meal cooked, and then Peter’s brought out a few minutes later so the meals are cooked one at a time. Rice is cooked in the morning and eaten with every meal.
We each had our own cooking station. There were 2 ladies who prepared all the ingredients for us and kept all the dishes washed. It was a perfect kitchen. Garnet showed us the cooking steps outside around a table, then gave each of us a tray of ingredients. She talked us through the steps as we all cooked together. We made Tom Yam and Tom Kha soups with shrimp. The curry we made went into a fantastic chicken curry and coconut milk dish. Everyone made a stir fry with chicken and basil that included nice crunchy green beans. This dish included some excellent stir fry techniques.
We stopped to eat this set of dishes and have a rest. We’re not as used to being on our feet all day, and having to pay attention so carefully.
Our last dishes were Pad Thai and Bananas in Coconut milk. The pad Thai used tamarind sauce made by boiling dried tamarind from the market as well as several other asian sauces. Garnet made us a traditional green papaya salad as well to taste.
The coconut milk for dessert was cooked with pandan leaves to make it a lovely green color. We ate the bananas but had to bring the pad Thai home. We were just too full. Take home bags were available and Garnet showed us how to fill and tie them so they looked like goldfish bags. Many take out foods are packaged that way, including soups or carrot juice in the markets.
We had to taste everything before we plated it to be sure it had all the components of sweet, sour, salty and spicy. We used fish sauce, sugar and chili flakes to adjust and added garnishes to all the plates. I really enjoyed the flavor of everything. The soup I made was a little spicy and some of the ingredients I found too tough to chew. Most of these recipes I will make again. I want to look for more of the ingredients in the markets. I will also be more willing to try new foods in the restaurants and street vendors, now that I know what they are.