Canoeing the Green River
August 25, 2017
This post is for the people we met in Canyonlands who were heading down the Green River.
Road to Mae Hong Son-Part 2 of the Mae Hong Son loop
December 12, 2016
Morning in Pai
Morning in Pai arrived completely overcast with low fog. So much for our plans of vistas and viewpoints. Although Pai has probably hundreds of restaurants, we started with our Fodors Guide book. Walking is the easiest way to find small places, especially when the streets are too narrow for parking. The All About Coffee showed as permanently closed on Google Maps. We walked to our second choice, the Om Garden Cafe but it had a chalkboard sign telling us it was closed for the week.
Travel is all about exploring and making things work. The TTK restaurant and guesthouse was the answer to our breakfast needs. They had real brewed coffee instead of the instant that we often get. The “American breakfast” had bacon, ham and little sausages that were like little hot dogs. The best part were the warm, crusty multi-grain buns. Bread is not a Thai food. We’ve found a french bakery that makes nice rustic loaves that they will even toast and serve with wonderful raspberry jam. The grocery store bread is just fine for sandwiches but these buns were exceptional.
There is hot springs just south of Pai, next to the Memorial Bridge. The Japanese used logs and elephants to build a wooden bridge over the Pai River during the war to move supplies to Burma (Myanmar). As they retreated, they burned the bridge behind them. The Thais rebuilt the bridge using iron from a Chiang Mai bridge that was being rebuilt. The 1946 bridge has since been rebuilt of concrete right next to the old one but you can still walk across the original structure.
Thom’s Elephant Camp
We saw the entrance to the hot springs, but carried on down the road to Thom’s Elephant Camp. We did this with mixed feelings. While it is exciting to see an Asian elephant up close, they are generally not treated as the wild animals that they are. Elephants have been used for centuries as work animals in Thailand, especially in the logging industry. Teak trees were cut down and hauled to the river by these animals. As machinery has taken over, the animals are expensive for their owners to feed if they are not working. Many are now used to entertain tourists wanting rides, to swim with the elephants, or feed the elephants.
At Thom’s, the elephants are taken to the mountains at night to feed and bath in natural surroundings. They are brought into a confined space during the day where you can buy baskets of bananas to feed to them. You can purchase a ride or bathe with them in the river. We decided that we would feed the elephant bananas. By getting close to the enormous animal we had a chance to get to learn a bit more about them, without taking too much advantage of them. Although most of the “domesticated” elephants have a mahout that bonds with them and manages their care, they use shouted commands and a pole with a sharp pick on the end. They hit the elephants on their heads and legs to get them to obey.
OT was gentle and enjoyed the bananas. He also had bamboo leaves to eat. When the bananas were gone, he would blow air in our direction and snort for more. The dexterity of his trunk was quite amazing. He could easily pick up leaves or bananas from the ground. When we put a banana behind out back, he would reach around to retrieve it. I enjoyed watching a young animal lover feed this giant with calmness and joy. After spending an hour or so close up with OT, we didn’t miss having a ride. Before we came it was the only way we thought we could interact with the animal.
There are a couple of elephant nature parks near Chiang Mai that do tours where you see elephants interacting in their natural environment. We even met a lady at the Remembrance Day British Legion dinner who fund-raised to set up an elephant sanctuary that is only for elephants, not tourists. She provides for vets to care for sick or injured animals and provides a salary to the mahouts while the animals are in care and not working. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and Elephant Nature Park are 2 examples of parks where elephants are not exploited.
As luck would have it, the skies cleared and the sun came out. We decided to skip the hot springs and carried on through an agricultural area. It was quite beautiful and nice to get out into the country. Every few km there were little machines. At first I thought they were ATM’s, but they were actually little gas pumps. I don’t know how you paid since most people use cash for everything here but they were just set along the road.
Mor Pang Waterfall
The back road led us back to Pai. We followed a road on our new paper map to a waterfall. It wasn’t that far away, but it was certainly secluded. It really felt like being in the jungle, from what I’ve imagined from the movies. There were actually 2 falls, but the best were the signs. There are many places where I would like the job of fixing a little grammar or spelling to make the message more clear. I do appreciate that there are English messages, but sometimes I am more confused that when I began. Notice the rule that says, “Ban controversy.”
The next set of curves and hills required some good driving. I’m glad I was in the front seat of a car and not in the back seat of a tour van. We saw a couple of people every day stopped by the side of the road with motion sickness. We took a side road into Sia Ngam Hot Spring. It is similar to the Liard River Hot Springs in northern British Columbia. There are toilets and a pathway with some other improvements in progress. It cost us 20 baht or about 75 cents each to get in. The water was pretty warm for here. It was more like a warmish bath than a hot tub.
The location was beautiful. The tree vines hang down and everything is lush and green. There were lots of young travellers there but many Chinese families as well. There was a little thatched hut for changing that looked very much like the family homes that we saw in the farming areas.
One of the hillsides was planted with corn. This is not a native plant to Thailand and farmers are offered incentives to plant it for feed. It is also a popular food in the market but required straw laid along the slopes to prevent erosion where the trees used to be. It produces a lot of waste that contributes to the terrible air quality in Northern Thailand when it is burned in March
There were several tour vans in the parking lot and lots of scooters. The road into the hot springs had some grades close to 20%. We saw a few scooters where the passengers had to get off because the bike just couldn’t get up the hill otherwise. For us in the car, there were a few times where it looked like we were going to take off since you couldn’t see the rest of the road below the crest of the hill. There were very steep cement gutters along the road that were about 18 inches deep with straight sides. I was a bit worried what would happen if we slipped into one of them moving aside to make room for other vehicles, but it was all ok.
There were a couple of viewpoints on the rest of the journey to Mae Hong Son. The first had wonderful views of the area. There were a collection of children in traditional costumes that would pose for a picture for a few baht. I found a bag in the market made of quilted fabric in bright colors. It fits my extra camera lens and cost about $6. This style of bag is made in one of the northern villages.
Our last stop on the road was at the Coffee View Point. It was a perfect location. The views over the mountains were spectacular. There was a bamboo deck and furniture created out of natural wood pieces. I had an iced green tea without sugar. It was very green. It has milk in it but it tasted a bitter like coffee. The regular Thai Tea is made with instant tea, powdered milk, powdered creamer, and sugar. Then it is poured over ice and liquid milk, or sometimes sweetened condensed milk is poured over the top. The result is quite orange, but it tastes like tea and lots of other good things. I have started asking for it without sugar. It’s rich enough.
There was a market at the top, as expected. Deliveries to each stall were made in one truck to the top of the mountain. All the products were unloaded and organized together by a crew of people. They really worked well together. It makes you wonder about the “village crafts” but it is free enterprise taking advantage of the tourist industry.
The last 15 km took about 30 minutes with all the curves and we were ready to be done for the day. I will continue with our time in Mae Hong Son another day.
Blog interlude-A puzzle until we finish a road trip
December 4, 2016
Peter and I are travelling the Mae Song Hon loop in northern Thailand. We rented a car and went off to explore a rural and mountainous area. There is lots to see and share when we return. In the meantime, I offer you a few pictures. Except for those of you I have already told, send me your comments about what you think these items are from the local market.
These pictures go together. Why did I buy these?
Stay tuned for our adventure on the Mae Song Hon Loop. 1864 curves, waterfalls, hot springs, elephants and things we haven’t even seen yet.
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.