Starting with the festival which took place on Sunday Night. I mentioned a couple of blogs ago that we were in Chiang Mai for Loy Krathong which is a local, annual lantern festival. It goes on for four days but the busiest day was definitely Sunday. We headed to the riverside to join the festivities passing by Chiang Mai's notorious bar street on the way which is the first glimpse we've had of Thailands sex tourism industry.
Reaching the river it was incredibly busy with food stalls and small bars set up selling pitchers of Chang, and countless people selling handheld fireworks and lanterns to set off into the sky or down the river! We grabbed some food from a street BBQ and washed it down with a pitcher of Chang before heading to the bridge.
Dodging the fireworks (health and safety isn't really an issue here) we grabbed a paper lantern from one of the vendors and set it off to join the thousands of others lighting up the night sky. It was quite an amazing spectacle. After this we stood back to watch for a while, browsing the small markets set up on each side, marvelling at the carefully put together flower arrangements floating down the river and watching the ornately decorated boats coming under the bridge.
After it started to get even more rowdy with kids throwing fire crackers into the water to start mini tsunamis and me nearly getting hit in the face with a handheld rocket launcher, we called it a night. Bright and early the next day, I headed to a nearby farm for my cookery course stopping for a quick market tour on the way. We saw tons of different vegetables we don't have at home including eggplants the size of peas, fresh roots such as turmeric and Thai ginseng and others which I don't even know the name of!
I absolutely love Thai food- with the exception of Japanese it's been my favourite cuisine, so it was great to learn how to cook everything properly and hopefully I'll be able to replicate it at home (although sourcing some of the ingredients might be a challenge). I learnt how to make: Tom Yum (or hot and sour) soup; fresh papaya salad; massaman curry (grinding the curry paste means my arm still hurts); chicken with holy basil; pad thai and sticky rice with mango for dessert! Needless to say after cooking and sampling everything I was stuffed!!!
The following day, being a bit more active, Rob and I headed for a day trip up to the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon. Not fancying the walk up 3000 metres, we took a van to the top stopping at a few key attractions along the way. The day got off to a panicky start with us sleeping in until 8.42am when the bus was due to pick us up at 8.30! Thankfully, they were running a bit late too so we made it in the nick of time.
The first stop of the day was to a huge and powerful waterfall. Standing anywhere near it you got soaked but it was definitely a good view!
After this we headed to another hill tribe village but thankfully we weren't there very long...
We then stopped at another gentler waterfall which is in the middle of a forested area and very scenic!!
We quickly stopped at a local market before lunch which had some cool foodstuffs- a lot of different types of fruit wine, different dried fruits and some good juices! The stallholders kindly allowed us to sample some of the produce and it was all really good- we even purchased some of the strawberry juice (although we struggled to finish it as it was 20% sugar)!
After lunch we continued the drive up the mountain reaching the summit after about half an hour. The road up is paved so it was a smooth ride surprisingly! The difference in climate from sweltering Chiang Mai was apparent as soon as you left the car- the temperature dropped a whole 25degrees and we both regretted wearing shorts!
After walking around the summit, we headed slowly down and stopped at a couple of pagodas which had been built for the King and Queen of Thailand. Thai people love the King and it is still illegal to insult him in any way- an expat recently got decades in prison for it!! We went to the cinema last week and before each film, they play the thai national anthem accompanied by footage of the royal family and everyone stands and claps. The pagodas were a lovely place with well-kept gardens aptly named the royal project. Unfortunately the view was marred by the descending mist, although this did afford the mountain a very creepy vibe!
Heading back to Chiang Mai, we checked out the Night Bazaar that evening which is huge and set over 4 streets. We finally finished our Christmas shopping so that is a relief!
We had one more busy day in Chiang Mai and that was a trek into the nearby jungle. We were picked up by a Songtheaw (a local 8 seater pick up truck) and driven about 90 minutes north. We started the ascent from a local village passing through some fairly dense jungle. Thankfully our guide had a machete to hack through the overgrowth while donning some pretty jungley attire!
The trek was hard work because we were often having to scramble up rocks and slide down muddy verges. The path was through some very spiky plants so we had to be very careful where we were walking as at times there would be a sheer drop on one side of you and a thorny bush on the other!!
It started off very well with us both leading the pack and we were still in the lead when we reached the halfway point and stopped for lunch- banana leaf wrapped rice which we ate sitting on the jungle floor.
We continued walking down to a small waterfall where we had a much needed break eating some delicious local oranges. Getting back up from here was a much bigger challenge however as we essentially had to climb up a sheer rock face! We then walked further up to get the view from a good vantage point at a tiny village where only 25 people live!
Heading back with our quads and calves aching, we went for some more delicious thai food and a much needed sleep! Apart from this, we have spent our time in Chiang Mai wandering through the old city and passing the numerous wats and markets, visiting a Saturday night market where the hill tribes come to Chiang Mai and sell homemade crafts and foods, eating a lot of street food from the collection of stalls near our guesthouse and Rob has even found an amazing cafe which will make him Thai curry without the coconut! Definitely check out Jimmy and Jengs if you're in Chiang Mai- they will make you very welcome! We're flying to Bangkok later today and I'm expecting a huge contrast from Chiang Mai but we're both very excited! We're also meeting my Mum and brother there so we might be living a slightly more luxurious lifestyle :)