Chiang Mai Day 2 – Exploring the neighbourhood
A cheery young female cab driver took me to my Airbnb flat from Chiang Mai airport – less than 10 mins’ drive. Thankfully my land lady had given a nearby hotel as a landmark or we would never have found the place. Dropped off at 8.30 pm I dumped my suitcase upstairs, had a quick guided tour of the facilities, noted the Wi-Fi password then hit the streets to find some dinner. I was unlucky on the domestic flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai – only 1 meal choice – chicken with rice. It seems ordering a veg meal on Bangkok Airways is not an option.
I strolled up one side of the street and down the other, but apart from a couple of noisy drinking dens most of the old city was in darkness. Finally, the dim light of a food cart lay up ahead. The owner had his head buried in a newspaper but the wok was hot and the menu said Pad Thai – three ways: chicken, pork, or chicken and pork. However, he did understand “vegetarian” and within a few minutes I was sitting down on a plastic stool at a wobbly table on the side of the road to a delicious plateful of steaming peanut infused noodles with loads of bean shoots, greens, and egg. A perfect way to start the trip.
Feeling knackered from 2 long days of travelling (Singapore and KL are far easier to get to from Alice Springs than Thailand) I headed back to the flat to see if Nino from HH IT had worked his magic on my MYOB journals. Turned on the laptop but no Wi-Fi god-darn it. After a re-boot down stairs and upstairs in my unit, we finally got it going and joy, o joy – all my data from the 24th April had re-appeared. I love you Nino. I can enjoy my break now.
Chiang Mai is 2 ½ hours behind Alice and it was past my normal bed time let alone my Thailand time zone bed time so I crashed under the aircon and woke with the birds at 6am. I’d not managed to gather any street snacks yet for breakfast so it was a cuppa and a look out the window to start the day.
Hoping to post my first day’s blog on fb and WordPress I opened the laptop only to find no Wi-Fi again. After several goes at re-setting the unit, nothing would work and the nearby hotels had password protect on their visible services. Then up popped Coffee Lovers as an option. I knew it was just across the street but not being a coffee lover myself I thought if I could get a little something to eat and retrieve their password I might be able to use it as a back-up for the rest of the trip.
I broke my golden rule of “no walls, no aircon” for eating options and suffered the “waste of a good meal” syndrome us Penders get when we choose a place to eat where we don’t really want to be. A very ordinary veg omelette with toast was triple the price of my Pad Thai last night and barely edible. But the Wi-Fi signal was strong, the blogs were posted, Makita was paid vast sums of money (I now know that my Commonwealth Bank authorisation token works just fine overseas) and I had the Coffee Lovers Wi-Fi password.
So now I could start exploring the neighbourhood. Randomly picking a direction I ambled the streets coming to the edge of the Old City boundary and the moat that surrounds it. I followed the sound of roosters crowing down a small laneway to find picturesque temples and greenery in the heart of the city. Even though the streets are narrow and footpaths non-existent there is always room for a few pot plants or a banana tree. A small yellow sign reading “Thai Vegetarian food” jogged my memory of a tip from friend Susan Graham of a place nearby here and I think this might just be it. Position noted and stored away for later. I was still digesting the awful omelette and not quite ready for the next feed.
Further down the main road shade umbrellas and trestle tables indicated a possible market up ahead. Oh yay – time to stock up on some fruit and snacks for my fridge. I went all out buying from the first stall – bananas, pawpaw, mango, and a huge bag of passionfruit all for around $4 total. Backpack now bulging with tropical fruit I could see a few more stalls in front of me and then wandered into a massive under cover market. I immediately recognised it from a photo posted by another friend recently and got very excited.
In the midst of Bumrung Buri Market I didn’t know which way to turn next and which foods to sample. Surround by sticky rice cakes, banana and coconut desserts, fried fish and snacks it was a matter of how much more could I fit in my bag and how long could I carry the weight. With enough supplies for several days it was time to head back to the flat to unload the shopping before continuing on.
Easier said than done. As per usual I got completely disoriented in the market and wondered off out a side exit following my nose and stomach, getting totally lost in the process. I was still in the old city square but didn’t have a map and couldn’t remember which street the flat was on. Too many streets with similar sounding names and I’d forgotten to bring the address of where I lived with me. It was very hot and I was running out of water, getting frustrated, sunstruck and dehydrated (not like I couldn’t buy a drink from every 2nd shop!). I finally asked a young girl at a tour desk to google the place for me and soon I was on the right path again – right street, wrong end!
It was a relief to dump my heavy bag, get the fluid levels up and most importantly sample all my goodies. A feast of mango and passionfruit (shouldn’t have bought the mangoes first then leave them on the bottom of the bag to get squashed) followed by baked banana and taro cake ensured sweets came first then main course later. Next – some of the best beer snacks ever Simon Pender. Lightly battered and fried little fishies with crispy fried kaffir lime leaves. Not quite as good as the Pakistani snacks from Penang but definitely in the top 5 of all time.
I still wonder at my fascination for whole grilled fish, given my life-time as mostly veggie, but I couldn’t resist popping one in the backpack and after swooning over this one I’m going back for more tomorrow. Salty, chewy and marinated in lemongrass, ginger and other spices it was well worth the $1 it cost.
Feeling refreshed and rehydrated I was game for another stroll and set myself some limits on directions, got myself a map and put “x marks the spot” of where I am living for the next few days. Portioning off the south-west section of the Old City, me and my camera went poking about a bit. Chiang Mai is an odd mix of new hostels and tour shops and very old temples and dwellings. I was fascinated by some of the peripheral decoration on fences, door-ways, and roof tops; And the plant life encroaching every corner and crevice.
I just happened to find myself near the yellow vegetarian food stall sign again so followed the arrows through back streets to find it. After-all, I’d only snacked back in the room and it would be rude not to check it out since I was so close. The “restaurant” was in a run-down yard under canvas at the back of a large building. Three generations of men were behind the counter – the youngest with eyes focused on his phone and wired in with earplugs, the middle-aged one with head ensconced in a newspaper, while the eldest – a wizened and bent old man was clearing tables. A nudge and some stern words got the youngest to his feet to serve me my three dishes with rice for 30 Baht. Needless to say, it was fabulous in flavour. Pumpkin and spinach in a spicy coconut gravy, braised green beans and tofu, and what I thought was noodles when I ordered it turned out to be masses of finely shredded ginger, with mushrooms and veg all on a bed of red whole grain rice.
Over full and a little weary I headed back to the hotel for a rest from the draining heat and brew up a few cups of herbal tea, stopping to buy more sticky rice balls from a lady carrying two huge baskets on a pole across her shoulders. Tearing the colourful packet open as the kettle boiled I made a note to look for her again tomorrow. I’ve eaten a lot of sweet sticky rice balls in my time and these ones were top notch. I may not need dinner tonight!
As I typed this afternoon a storm was brewing. Wind blowing leaves from the trees and banging window shutters, thunder circled and drops of rain fell. A good excuse to sit on my tiny balcony and enjoy its cooling effects.
But the storm fizzled out soon after, so no excuse not to have a final walk before sunset, this time with a brolly just in case. I portioned off the next section of the map and criss-crossed the back lanes and busy roads. By now almost dark, I was drawn to the street of food carts around the corner form my apartment. Eight or ten different stall were cooking individual delicacies and queues of pedestrians and motor bike riders were forming at each one. I was done with eating for the day but couldn’t help a few photos before heading for home.
My host runs a small mini-mart downstairs, a fridge containing cool drinks and a variety of beers is the stand out feature! After a long hard day pounding footpaths a glass or two of Singha and some crispy fishy snacks might make a good finale.