This post originally appeared on the 25th October 2011 on Tuk-tuks, chicken bouquets and bicycle bells @ kerrytolsontravels.com
Place – Chiang Mai Airport. Time – 1pm Sunday. This week’s blog is coming from the airport lounge of Chiang Mai’s International Airport.
It’s an airport lounge like any other; uncomfortable blue chairs, television set on some absurd station showing bad game shows at too loud volume, lots of bright pigeon hole size shops selling stuff that you don’t really need and if you do indulge, will skyrocket the carry-on allowance. Thank goodness, it’s weighed at check-in and not as your running for the gate. We really should be sitting here in four days time in eager anticipation of winging it to Myanmar... instead we’re on our way back to good old Australia. That’s right, our endless summer of wandering has come to an end even before summer wakes up. The last time I left you, we were gaily dancing our way along Chiang Rai’s streets; now I’m dancing hot-footedly to the ‘little girls room’ thanks to a tiny uninvited stomach bug with a big appetite. “So why scamper home because of a bout of the Thai Trots?” I hear you ask. Well....
I was keen to take a more chill’n-back-devil-may-care mode of transport to our next destination, Chiang Mai. I’d heard many a grooving backpacker made the trip from Tha Ton (a mountainous village above Chiang Mai) to Chiang Rai via a long-tail boat or if they were feeling even more flexed a bamboo raft,down the Mae Nam Kok River; a trip that took at least six hours. We were thinking of doing the trip in the opposite direction. I admit I’m still wary of any type of water transport especially after the screaming bounce across open ocean to the Perhentians, but I was open to the thought of idyllically puttering up a river.
The day before we were to leave Chiang Rai, I’d left Big M to indulge in a spot of sports relief –F1 followed by the world cup - whilst I headed on foot to the Boat Ramp, getting waylaid along the way by the wet markets, endless temples and trying to get across ridiculously busy roads. My quick dash to the pier was turning into a sweltering, getting lost down side streets sweat-fest and finally I gave up on walking and decided to hire a peddle rickshaw. Why is it whenever you need or want something, it’s never around! After knocking back countless offers of vibrantly decorated rickshaws through the middle of town, I’d now found myself in streets empty of the three wheeled contraptions.
Empty except for one lone very old, very rusty, very raggedy tender; and this was the driver. Beckoning me over to his equally dilapidated buggy, he insisted I climb into the back and let him peddle me to wherever I wanted to go. I was a bit hesitant the rickshaw was capable of taking me anywhere but the chap looked in need of a fare, and so I settled my ample frame on to the bits of metal covered in shredded canvas and watched his ancient bony frame mount the bike – and there we sat.
He tried, pushing his spindly legs back and forward, but not around, trying with all his might to turn the peddles. Nothing happened. I was too rooted to the spot with shock to get off the rickshaw. With his leg pushing came a body rock and grunting and to my horror I found myself also trying to rock the rickshaw forward. What the hell was I doing! Disgusted with myself I moved to get off but before I could step down, he was off the bike and pushing the rickshaw along the street. So appalled at what was happening I tried to get him to stop and let me off but he refused determine to take me to the boat ramp. Either that or he was deaf.
After pushing the bike for a while he re-mounted and continued with a half peddle action along the road. That is, he rocked his feet in a back and forward motion, catching the chain on the links to move. It was an incredibly slow journey and only when we hit a small decline in the road level was he able to complete a full peddle turn. Upon entering the highway, it became an are-you-mad-death-wish-journey as cars, trucks and motorbikes whizzed around us in all directions. My “please stop” pleas fell on deaf ears as we snail paced it to the river. Our return trip was a tad quicker – he peddled whilst I walked . . . and pushed the rickshaw from behind.
At the river I took one look at the wooden boats, complete with gas cylinders attached to the back of the seats and flimsy tarp covering overhead, and listened to the clerk tell me we’d be going against the rapids – “very bang-bang” were his actual words - dodging logs and debris coming in the opposite direction, and that the journey was an all-dayer as the water was low, and decided, “I’ll just relax in an armchair – coach style” . I just knew I’d be a blubbering mess, hugging the boat seat all the way.
And seat hug I did the very next day, but not from fear. Our meal the night prior decided not to agree with me although I’d found it immensely agreeable and moorish. By time I reached Chiang Mai I wasn’t so much a blubbing mess as a groaning moaning lump whose flagging spirit sank further by first impressions of Chiang Mai. A mass of ugly modern buildings tied up in wide concrete highways leading in all directions and filled with furious traffic was not what I was expecting. Although the ghost of guidebooks past described Chiang Mai as a tourist trap, warning of drug busts and trekking scams and that the word Guesthouse was a convenient buzz word, the new “fresh off the press” guide book promised a cool, kick-back, ‘culture darling’.Where in world was it?
One of reasons I love travelling is the people we meet and once again, fate smiled upon us in the form of a young German chap with little money. He approached us at the bus station asking if we’d share or should I say shout him a taxi to the “Old City” – he was a shoestringer of the absolute threadbare kind, trying to travel around Asia on the equivalent of $10Aud a day. We all trundled off to the old city and found the tranquil oasis everyone had been raving about. Behind the ancient red brick walls of the Moat we fell into cobbled stone soi’s fringed with leafy gardens housing sweet little guest houses and fragrant cafes. We had found the nirvana. Our taxi companion suggested a guesthouse he knew then disappeared into the maze of rambling laneways. He may have been on a shoestring, but his tastes were impeccable, the guesthouse he suggested was delightful and we set up home for the next ten days.
Chiang Mai was two things for us – the launching point for our sojourn into Myanmar and the destination to tick off the Thai component of our quest to cook our way through Asia. We found Chiang Mai filled to the wok with cooking classes and trying to pick one was like trying to find the perfect red chilli in an Asian food market!
We settled on the BaanThai Cookery School located down a tiny alleyway in the cutest little building. The class was a kaleidoscope of nations as a group of sixteen gathered in the early morning ready to trek to the market to collect our ingredients for the day. Led by a delightful chap called Oen to the market, we all carried the sweetest little cane baskets which drew a gaggle of giggles. One would not normally think it funny carrying a cane basket in Thailand, after all, it’s the mode of carry apparatus for most here, but when big grown men in shorts and thongs swing delicate pieces of wicker, it’ll garner a few looks, especially if it’s the Big M with his aussie ocker stride.
From a menu of eighteen dishes, we each picked six and began cooking in the morning, chopping, grinding and sluicing throughout the day. I was particularly thrilled to learn how to make coconut milk and cream, surprised to discover it wasn’t actually the juice that came from the inner of the nut but the flesh, shaved, soaked and kneaded in water. Very labour intensive, yet the end result was so fresh and fragrant, it was worth the flexing of muscles. By day’s end, after sharing and gorging on delectable victuals, we waddled back to our guesthouse with full tums and tingling tastebuds.
Thailand Blog posts
This blog originally appeared on my blog: Tuk-tuks, chicken bouquets and bicycle bells at kerrytolsontravels.com in 2011.
Hello! I'm Kerry
. . . a plan-nothing, have no idea where I'm going travelholic.
A daughter of the gypsies and the wife of a workaholic, I'm forever wondering 'What's over there?' and devising ways to squeeze through the barbed-wire fence of small-business ownership responsibilities and every-day life tangles to discover it.
and this is my book.