Man, that bed in Bangkok was comfortable! No sooner had we fallen asleep and we were back up again, on the hunt for caffeine. With neither of us fancying the buffet breakfast offered by the hotel (late night dining!), we found (found is the right word as it was past reception, past the conference room, past loads of meeting rooms and then, past laundry) the cafe and performed a magic trick on the black nectar. After checking out and getting our 1,000 Baht deposit back (in 10x100 Baht notes) we walked over to the airport and checked in. The flight to Chiang Mai took a mere 50 minutes and if anyone ever, ever asks, fly straight to Chiang Mai from Phuket! We took the cheapest taxi of the trip so far from the airport to our hostel for the next 5 nights, About a Bed, and checked into our 6 bed dorm. The receptionist was lovely and we liked her even more when we got the best bunk beds in the room, furthest from the door and closest to the A/C!
The afternoon was spent relaxing before heading out for dinner. Our original plan had been to go to a local restaurant but we stumbled upon a night market that only had food vendors. We both had the duck with rice and it was absolutely amazing and, with a price tag of £1.25 each, it might be the best value meal of the trip!
When we had eaten (and Craig had gotten his mango smoothie), we walked to our local temple, Wat Lok Moli, to see it lit up at night. The almost unfinished look from the exposed brick seemed to take on a life of it's own as the light and shadows caught it at different angles however we didn't stay for long as there was a service (or the Buddhist equivalent of service) ongoing.
The next morning, Craig wanted to walk around the ancient city moat and see the remaining brick wall and gates to the city. We went early in the morning so as to avoid the heat however, as we approached the end of the circuit, we were definitely needing lunch and a seat as the heat and humidity rose.
We stopped at the understated Cool Muang, only to be greeted by the most charming Thai woman running towards us, smiling, waving both her hands and took turns shouting "hello" and "sawadee ka". She absolutely exuded happiness and positivity and we were smiling for the entire meal which was really tasty as well! We left in a really good mood as we headed for our first ever Thai massage. Katy had booked us into Lila Thai Massage a social project that employs ex-convicts that have been trained in traditional Thai massage, whilst incarcerated, to help break the cycle of crime. If we are honest with you, we were very clumsy as we had no idea what was coming but the girls were amazing and we all had a laugh at Craig's 'clicky' rugby knees getting stretched out. When we left we felt a little battered but already looser and we were given a beautiful keyring, a lovely memento of our time with them.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing in our room with a late dinner. On Sunday morning, we again rose early and headed out on a self guided walking tour (painstakingly put together by Craig) of the notable and 'must see' temples of Chiang Mai (there are so many it would be almost impossible to see them all in the time we had). Our first stop was back to Wat Lok Moli to see it in the day time and see inside the temple that had been closed to us on Thursday. It was almost less impressive having seen it at night but, the elephant sculptures and Yaksha guards were still worth seeing.
The next stop was Wat Phra Singh to see the lion Buddha and the golden pagoda but, as we entered the complexes walls, we were greeted by the sight of scaffolding. The main temple was under renovation and so the lion Buddha was annoyingly off limits but we wandered around to the pagoda and it was pretty impressive. We also took the chance to watch the prayer ceremony that Buddhists follow and it was so alien to anything we have ever seen before, it was absolutely fascinating.
After a coffee in a little family run cafe, we walked out the South Gate of the city walls to Wat Sri Suphan after the receptionist at our hostel had recommended the silver temple that was within its walls. The temple was simply stunning, fully coloured in silver with the surrounding blue floor painted with the swirls and white spray of waves. The carvings on the outside ranged from the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, to city skylines from around the world all the way to Marvel Superheroes (a recent addition, we think)!
Traditionally, the silver temple is only open to men and women are banned from entering however, Craig entered, armed with the camera (photo quality may have suffered without the presence of our usual photographer) because we believe in equality! It truly was a stunning piece of art.
We re-entered the city by the 2nd South Gate, and walked to Wat Chedi Luang, passing no less than 6 other temples on our way. After paying our entrance fee we began at the shrine to the Lak Meuang (the ceremonial city pillar), again a male only deal, but this was far less impressive than the silver temple. In Chiang Mai the pillar was named Inthakhin. The shrine contained painted murals on the 4 walls that surround the pillar and statues of Buddha.
The next stop in the complex was the main assembly hall, it was huge although largely similar to others we had seen (we were getting a bit templed out) with the only real difference being an army of wooden statues of monks that brought to mind the terracotta warriors.
The last sight in Wat Chedi Luang was the ancient, bare brick pagoda that has started to crumble away. It was once surrounded by elephant sculptures on the first level that have sadly been removed or broken so only a few remain. The detail and scale of the building was very impressive and it was definitely more impressive than the temple.
Wat Phan Tao was the next stop and this was a very peaceful stop. It consisted of a golden pagoda on 1 side of a lane and an artificial lake on the other. A statue of Buddha was placed at the opposite bank of the lake and there was lanterns hanging from the trees overhead. It was very tranquil and we took a moment to take a seat and enjoy the peace!
The next was more of a walk past (we were getting a bit bored of taking our shoes off every time we entered a temple) of the Wat Inthakhin Saduemuang that used to house the city pillar. Bizarrely, it is located on the edge of the road which seemed to suggest a lack of respect, or perhaps more likely, poor city planning.
Thankfully, (for us and for you we imagine) our last stop was the Wat Chiang Man which is the oldest Wat in the city. We entered via a side street and suddenly we were in the middle of a garden. Again we were drawn to the aged pagoda and the temples were fairly spectacular but we were definitely done with temples for 1 day so we headed for lunch at a street-side vendor, enjoying more Thai food. We returned to the hostel for some rest, we were absolutely knackered!
After a much needed shower and chill out we headed out to the Sunday night market. We entered by a side street and were thoroughly enjoying the quiet, calm flow of the market until we turned the corner onto Prapokkloa Road and suddenly the full market was laid out in front of us! To be honest, the market was so busy we didn't really get a chance to stop at any of the stalls and so instead we slipped into a restaurant for dinner. For dessert however, we had the very touristy banana pancake! Unashamedly, we shared one between us and it was really good (and yes, we are children and had Nutella on it)!
Monday morning started with another early alarm and we got a taxi out to the end of Suthep Road and then began our walk to the Monk's Trail. Full disclosure, Craig made a bit of a mistake and had thought the walk to the temple at the end of the Monk's Trail was 45 minutes, however it was 45 minutes on the road to the trailhead and then a further 45 minutes climbing the dirt road the monks use to get to Pha Lat temple. Katy was not impressed as the temperatures were rising! We finally came to a set of bamboo stairs that ascended to the entrance of the temple. The real draw of this place was the promise of a view of the city but it was non-existent as a haze was lying over Chiang Mai. We were however, both blown away by the peace and tranquility that existed in this old, crumbling temple complex.
After buying some water, we began our descent and walked all the way back into the city (couldn't have been too bad eh Katy!?) and went for lunch at the vegan restaurant Reform Kafe. We did feel a bit pretentious but the food was delicious and Craig loved the Khao Soi (a traditional northern Thai dish that is quite similar to ramen, normally made with chicken).
Walking this morning had an ulterior motive as we were working up an appetite for our cooking class this evening with Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School. After being collected at the hostel, we arrived at the classroom and sat at our table with the 8 others joining us. We were introduced to our head chef and guide for the evening, Sexy A, who had a tremendous sense of fun and enthusiasm that was infectious. First things first, we went to the market. Although we didn't buy anything we were shown the different core ingredients that are used in traditional Thai cooking.
When we returned to the classroom we were then taken to their organic herb garden where we were taken through and got to taste the different grown herbs and spices that would be going into our food.
From the menu, we had to pick 1 dish each to cook from stir-fry, soup, curry paste, curry and everyone made spring rolls (as we were on the half-day class we didn't get to make the salad or dessert).
Our first course was the stir fry and Katy made the cashew nut with chicken (as she has pretty much eaten it non stop since we arrived) and Craig the hot basil, and it was honestly the fastest either of us have ever made a stir fry but it was really good. At this point we should explain the blog post title. Sexy A explained to us that Thai food should be spicy because it makes you sexy as your face goes red but if you start to cry (from the heat) you have just made it too sexy, and you should keep smiling. So when we were preparing all of our dishes the amount of chillies we used defined how sexy it was. For our stir-fries, Katy was a 2 and Craig was a 10 (and yes, he was nearly in tears).
Next up were our spring rolls, and this time we had to wrap them carefully, as if they were our babies. We fried our babies together and I think it's fair to say it's pretty obvious who's came out the best (hint: it is the person who does the present wrapping at home).
Making the curry paste was a head to head effort (5v5). We had to work as a team to chop the ingredients as finely as possible while someone pulverised them with a mortar and pestle. Our team won but our extemporaneous preparation practice in uni did not prepare us for the hard work required to make the paste. The whole process took 10 minutes with 5 of us working on it!
Next we made our soups and curries with Katy making the coconut milks soup and the red curry although they were only 2 sexy. Craig made the Tom Yum soup (8 sexy) and the Khao Soi curry (7 sexy) and all the dishes were amazing! Although we didn't manage to finish either soup as we were full from all we had eaten!
It will come as no surprise that Craig won the sexy award in the group for having the sexiest food for the duration of the course.
The next morning was another early start! This morning we were being picked up by the bus for Elephant Nature Park, and Katy was really excited. An hour's drive north and we were there. The sanctuary houses 80 elephants that have been rescued from circuses, trekking and illegal logging amongst other things. When we arrived the first activity of the morning was to feed the elephants their mid-morning snack! It was a pretty surreal moment putting food in their outstretched trunks. It was also fascinating to see how fussy they were, first they wanted banana's, then they would eat the pumpkin and then, when there was nothing else left, they would finally eat the cucumber!
Our group of 10 then ventured out to sanctuary to meet some of the elephants. It was humbling to see these animals, so badly abused by humans throughout their lives, eating at peace as we watched on only steps away.
After a vegetarian Thai lunch we ventured to the sky walk and watched some of the elephants interacting with one another, bathing in the river and then covering themselves in mud and this was the absolute highlight of the day as it was a totally organic experience.
We then went out to see a family group, that included a 4 year old bull that had been born in the sanctuary, as they finished bathing and then covered themselves in mud to keep themselves cool!
The most humbling stop was to see the 104 year old elephant, affectionately nicknamed Grandma, who had 23 owners in her life that had put her to work for 100 of her 104 years before the sanctuary rescued her. She had started in logging and then was sold into the tourist trade. It also included giving birth to 5 calves, that were all taken from her to be used in the tourist trade. She was incredibly frail and had failing health but she stood at peace, eating her watermelon, happy, at last, in her twilight years.
We slowly returned to the centre seeing more elephants as we went with a couple of young elephants quickly parting the group as they marched around looking for food.
Katy had done a lot of research into elephant sanctuaries before we had even left home last summer, knowing she desperately wanted to see these beautiful creatures but absolutely did not want to contribute in any way to their suffering. The general consensus was the sanctuary we went to was the only one people were comfortable recommending from an animal welfare point of view, and therefore the only one we were comfortable visiting. We were not interested in riding, touching or bathing the elephants that is offered by many other sanctuaries. After our visit we felt that on one hand we are delighted these animals are no longer being abused and are allowed to roam and live in peace but on the other, we questioned if this is another form of exploitation. In total there were 8 groups of 10 visiting today, all on site at the same time. Grey area indeed.
After being dropped off at the hotel and having a shower (turns out we were getting covered in mud as well) we had some downtime before heading out for dinner. Near to the hostel there were several Thai Buffet BBQ restaurants that we had walked past and had wanted to try. Now, maybe we should have tried a BBQ restaurant before we left, and that's on us, but we were totally confused by the whole process from the moment we entered. We were sat a table and told it would be 200 Baht each (despite the sign stating 150), where the food was and what soup would we like and then our waitress disappeared. A bit dazed, we collected some meat for BBQing and some pre-cooked food and returned to our seats where we had been given the equivalent of a pot of soup each. The BBQ had been turned on and so we put the meats on it but it started to burn and with no obvious switches or dial to turn the heat down we turned the meat over again and again until it was cooked. It ended up being a very expensive meal where we had eaten more pre-cooked food than the BBQ meat we had been there for!
When we returned to the hostel we packed our bags and headed to bed as our next leg takes us further north to Chiang Rai.