One Week in Chiang Mai

First off, Happy Birthday to my Dad! Hope its a great one! (It’s already your birthday here.)

So, Chiang Mai. Cool city! Its getting more interesting to compare SE Asian cities as I see more of them. First off, its really hot here now. Distinctly over a 100F everyday and it feels even hotter than that. The sun is surprisingly aggressive despite being totally blocked by both clouds and smog 90% of the time. Woof. Grateful our classes are in an air conditioned room during the hottest part of the day.

Second, traffic is surprisingly organized compared to experiences in India and Malaysia. However, this organization can be rather frustrating when the old town square is surrounded by a moat with limited crossings and one way roads on the outside and inside of the moat. Additional frustration obviously arises from a lack of street signs in a language I know and a lot of dead ends. This frustration showed itself most on Friday night when I spent time looking for a way into the wrong part to do some AcroYoga. I knew how to get to park I was actually supposed to try to get to, but when I asked, I was told to go to a different park, which is actually a golf course, so the only way to get to it was through the main entrance, which didn’t seem correct to me. So, that was an hour riding around a part of town I wouldn’t have done otherwise, which was really neat! Saw some beautiful old buildings like a Buddhist monastery and a traditional Lanna house. So those were some nice perks to wandering. I did eventually take myself to the park I thought I was supposed to go to originally and did a little Acro, which was lots of fun.

Third, street food. Street food. STREET FOOD. I love street food. Did I mention that I love street food? Because I love street food. Let’s see… winners so far… Well, there are a few street markets. Every night of the week, there are a whole bunch of food carts that set up by the south gate of the city square, and I am working my way through all of the good stuff. Additionally, there is a night bazaar every night outside the moat on the east side of the square, which I have yet to make it to, but I expect to at some point before I’m done there. Then, on the weekend nights there are markets in two different locations. Saturday night there is a market outside the wall along a road that starts just around the corner from where I am staying and runs all of the way up to the square. Then Sunday night there is one inside the square on the east side of the square. Both of these markets are mind-boggling large. Every time I think it’s done, IT’S NOT. They go on and on and on with shirts and silks and fancily carved soaps and bracelets and delicious foods and more and more and more! It’s awesome. More along the lines of awe-inspiring. I navigate them by always sticking to the left. That way I get to see the whole thing and will eventually end up where I started, hopefully recognizing that it is where I started. The markets are incredible. I look forward to haggling for some chopsticks, linen shirts, and elephant pants.

Anyway, back to food. When you think of Thai food, you probably think first of Pad Thai, which, indeed, is here and it is delicious, but there is so much more! There’s rice. Lots of rice. Mostly white, mostly steamed, but quite a bit of also sticky (glutinous – doesn’t have gluten in it) and fried (both stir fried and deep fried), and a little bit of it made into some sort of pancake. Asia loves its rice. One of the best combinations of rice I’ve had so far is incredibly simple and delicious – Mango Sticky Rice. A pile of hot sticky rice, topped with a very fresh and ripe mango, bathed in coconut milk, and sprinkled with something crunchy. Sweet, salty, creamy… fantastic. There are also many many stands which have bags of rice to go with bags of soup, bags of some sort of stir fried meat, meat on a stick, etc. And the broth soups are very flavorful and full of all kinds of known and unknown food items.
Meat, just mentioned meat, there’s meat everywhere. Sausage, chicken wings and other cuts, many different cuts of pork, at least four kinds of fish on sticks, and squid, much of it fried, the rest roasted on grills right in front of you. Walking around the Saturday night market we came across whole roast chickens, intestines, and squid roe, among lots of other stuff. Basically, there’s meat everywhere and in everything, not unlike Malaysia, but very unlike India. There are a number of vegetarian options, but not too much. I did have a whole fried fish this week, which was pretty darn delicious.
A fan favorite for the travelers who come through are the “fruit shakes” offered most everywhere to a variety of degrees of fruitiness. Fresh fruit (which is amazing in south east Asia – more sweet and flavorful than anywhere else) blended with ice, maybe a little water, maybe a little coconut milk, and almost definitely a surprisingly large scoop of sugary syrup unless you tell them not to. It’s the fruit that makes the difference. Just won’t be the same back in the states… sigh… I’ll probably try anyway. They’re the life saver when its 110F out.
One of the most flavorful dishes I’ve had so far was a Thai Papaya Salad. It really hit those five flavor profiles hard. A little sweet, a little sour, a little salty, a little spicy, and a hit of umami. Plus, the green papaya is crunchy, refreshing, and awakening (because of the spicy an sour in particular).
Desserts. You know I love my sweets, especially seeing how they’re made and eaten in other countries. The sweet I see around a lot that I have yet to eat is local ice cream. There is both “ancient” ice cream and coconut ice cream, which I will have to get sooner rather than later. The great sweet things I’ve had so far are both hot. First, I got a rotee/roti which was fried in a bath of butter until puffy and crispy, then squirted with some sort of sugary syrup. C’mon. Sweet, buttery, fried dough. How can you go wrong?! The other, and even more interesting treat, are Karom Krok (Kharom Krok/Kharom Khok/Kharom Khrok, the “Krok” pronounced “croak”), which are basically coconut cream puffs cooked on a cupped cast iron pan. A sweet rice flour batter is first used to make the cups which are a crispy and a bit chewy, and they’re then filled with thickened coconut milk, and then, at least as the lovely lady who makes them here serves them, sprinkled with some yummy flavoring like green onions, sweet corn, or pumpkin. They’re fabulous. Crispy, chewy, creamy, hot, and a little sweet. Magical. Get some.

Ok, finally on to Thai Massage School. I’m here for two weeks with 60 hours of thai massage learning, practice, and examination at the Shivagokamarpaj Thai Massage School. This past week has been focused on work done for a supine client (lying on their back) and next week we’ll be focusing on prone and side-lying movements. The basic ways we interact with a clients body are pressing, squeezing, circling, sliding, rolling, rotating, twisting, cracking, chopping, knocking, and stretching for stretching, energy line and point, and acupressure massage. There are so many options! It feels very natural and intuitive when you work on the body, and feels much like AcroYoga in the give and take between the individuals. Important parts giving the massage, like any other massage and yoga and Acro, are presence and intention, especially on the part of the masseur. I am enjoying the lessons and practice so much, feeling confident in myself and my ability to administer. The real challenge, I think, will be limiting the work to just 60 or 90 minutes. Doing everything we learned in just this first week would result in about a 150 minute massage. And I’ve got another week of learning! Hooray! So many movements. Plus, hanging out with masseurs and masseuses is pretty nice. We went to a pool yesterday and there were massage exchanges all around! Its good for everyone.

On to week two, thanks for reading!

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