Saturday, August 10, 2013

Chiang Mai, Thailand - Same Same but Same

Dave Kirschenbaum, or Kirsch as his "friends" call him, had descended from the heavens to join us on the next adventure of our journey. Despite his insistence that he was down for anything, it was hard to not feel as though the pressure was on to make sure that we made the most of Kirsch's 17 days with us. The basic trip we had planned out was to have Dave meet us in Bangkok and fly out the next morning to Chiang Mai to spend 5 or so days in Northern Thailand and then figure out a route to Laos and Northern Vietnam.

A little about Kirsch. Kirsch has been one of my dearest friends since living in San Francisco. We met through an old roommate that we both had at different times and I think we both agree that the best thing that came out of having that particular roommate was meeting each other. Dave knew me when I met Hannah (both times) and he and Hannah became fast friends. Hannah serves as his life coach invoking his confidence gland, while I counter by serving as the voice that tries to keep him from getting too confident. He has always tended to be rather picky about what to put into his body, which definitely made SE Asia the clear choice to vacation.

We arrived Chiang Mai the afternoon of August 5, 2013 and headed straight for the guesthouse. I had been to Chiang Mai previously and done a few excursions, but hoped to have more and different experiences this time around. Our guest house, called Sawasdee, was one of the more "budget" stays that we have done on our trip but the reviews were very positive, especially for less than $30 or so a night room. The owner, Sam, and the rest of the staff were wonderful. They were extremely helpful, helping us book all of our tours, arranging our laundry service, and much more. The only thing we will begrudgingly say about Sawasdee is that they booked our Chiang Mai to Laos slow boat ride which we will be bitching and moaning about later in the blog and for the remainder of our time on earth.

We wandered around Chiang Mai's old city and soon realized that the sweltering heat and dusty town was going to be a challenge. We all agreed that the Chiang Mai that all travelers rave about was probably in the more remote jungle excursions that were offered around town. Many travelers elect to spend a day with elephants, go to tiger sanctuaries and cuddle with barbituated tigers, or go trekking or biking. The animal excursions didn't really appeal to us as we weren't confident in the true environmental sanctity of playing with wild animals, and the active ones seemed like a stretch given the 100 degree 80% humidity. We instead decided to chill out in town, take a cooking class, see a Muay Thai Boxing match, and venture up to the temples in and around Chiang Mai.

We were all in indecisive mode the first day in Chiang Mai. None of us could make a decision to eat anywhere or go anywhere. We all agreed at that point that we all needed to be assertive and say what we wanted or else we'd all end up driving each other nuts for the next 2 weeks. We settled on a series of mediocre restaurants, one of which the power went out in as soon as we ordered our drinks.
It was again obligatory to visit the Chiang Mai temple on top of the mountain directly outside the city. We piled into a pickup truck, were driven to the top of the mountain, walked through the temple and were done in less than an hour....mission accomplished.
We even got to give a shout out to our mothers.

We didn't notice the sign that said "don't ring the bells".

The Muay Thai Boxing match was a hugely fun way to spend an evening but something we all felt we could do once and not have to do again. Through Sawasdee we got VIP tickets in the front row. We saw all the action, about 6 fights in total, a couple of woman bouts, a couple of knockouts, and a clown match where 4 blindfolded idiots ran around the ring slapping each other as well as the referee.

One of the highlights of our trip to Chiang Mai was the tour we received from Steve Kramer, a family friend of Hannah's who has lived much of his life in Japan and Thailand. Steve has a lot of experience with tours in the Chiang Mai area. He rented a car and drove us about an hour outside of Chiang Mai up to Thailand's highest peak, Doi Inthanon. On the way we stopped by a local village who sustains by growing rice for their own consumption and weaving scarves for sale to tourists coming through the village. We then headed up to the peaks and stopped at some waterfalls on the way down.
Our first meeting with Steve...he tracked us down on the street in Chiang Mai. We had never met him, so imagine our surprise when we were being called from this guy on a moped.

Scenes from the local village.

Temple at the peak of Doi Inthanon.

Pondering life over a waterfall.
More fun with panoramics.
We finally got to take the elephant ride that everyone raves about in Chiang Mai.

That evening Steve and his wife Nobuku took the 3 of us out to a unique Chiang Mai dinner experience. The only way to classify this experience would be to call it an open air version of a Chinese buffet, Thai style. That makes no sense unless you were there. We cooked on our hot pot at the table and make more trips than we care to remember to the buffet line.

Very angry birds.
Hello. Kitty?

Dave observed the glutonous open air feast from afar and I took a walk with him later that evening to get him some terrible Pad Thai at a place near the guest house. Dave and I then found a local bar with a funk band playing some good music so we sat and chatted over a few beers.
The other highlight of our time in Chiang Mai was the amazing cooking class that we attended. The cooking school, Thai Secret Cooking School, led by Mae and her husband Jason was a blast. It turned out that it was only the three of us in class that day, so we got her full attention and were able to have our own party. The day started with a visit to the local market where Mae explained all the herbs, vegetables, and fruits we'd be using.

We then picked fresh fruit, herbs, and vegetables in her garden.

We all selected about 4-5 dishes each to prepare. The all day class was a blast, we all cooked our individual dishes and took turns trying each other's foods. Dave consistently had issues with listening and following directions and it showed in the quality of his dishes. Hannah won the best curry award and my Tom Kha soup was by far superior to the other soups. The sticky rice with mango, one of my all time favorite deserts, was amazing!

That evening the three of us went back to the same bar that Dave and I found the night before. We planned on having a single beer as we were all exhausted from the cooking class and not in the mood to make it a late one. We, in no way, shape, or form, stuck to that plan. Before we knew it both Hannah and I were taking turns showing up at the table with toxic Thai rum shots. A crew of girls sat down behind us and Hannah and I immediately went into wingman mode for Dave's benefit. We managed to meander our way into their lives when Hannah overheard the word "Vermont", and was able to get us access to their conversation. In order allow Dave and to I to work our "magic" she responded to the two guys next to her who started up a conversation with her. After a half hour I interjected into Hannah's conversation and introduced myself. I wouldn't say that my cordiality was greeted with a warm response...which I let go and went back to work supporting Dave. Hannah was doing a great job occupying herself as well as these two guys, keeping them from getting involved in the Kirsch/Goldberg charm happening with the girls behind her. The most amusing part of the evening occurred when we got up to leave. As we were walking out of the bar Hannah's new friends called her over and asked for her contact info so they could "stay in touch" as they traveled to Laos, as we were traveling the same direction. To Hannah's credit, she gave them the least invasive form of contact info, her email address. She didn't see anything malicious or out of the ordinary in their behavior and considered Dave and I doing the same by talking to the crew behind us, but Dave and I staged an intervention at 1am on the streets of Chiang Mai. We explained the plight of man and how it was indeed inappopriate and against the guy code to ask for a married woman's contact info in front of her husband...after shunning her husband's attempt to be friendly. This topic would be a continued joke for the remainder of our time in Chiang Mai and Laos, especially when Hannah received their email.
The next morning we were picked up by a minivan to head to our next destination. The trip would be tiring and the least efficient way to make it to Laos, but it makes for a good story, so stay tuned for the next edition of A Lifeless Ordinary: The Lives and Travels of The Goldbergs"!

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