Chiang Mai Day 4 – a day of rest (for some)

Another storm last night helped to cool the air again, although it wasn’t as violent as the night before. It’s very kind of the weather gods to confine the rain to the evenings once I’m tucked up my flat with a beer and my keyboard. It was so hot the first day here I was wondering about this pleasant weather others had spoken of, but I’m now feeling more optimistic – even though I’m quite used to this climate.

A 6am start seems to be my Chiang Mai routine although I don’t leave home until 8.30 most mornings. A long leisurely breakfast and a read of the online media is very relaxing. And such a lovely feast I prepared this morning. I didn’t quite finish my platters (pictured) but came damn close. After swearing to not buy any more fruit I did sneak a bag of longans in from the street market last night.

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This morning I planned to cover the North-East section of the Old City taking in Sompet Market on the way. It seems Sunday is a day of rest for most, as I could walk down the middle of normally busy Ratchamanka Rd without getting run over to take a photo to prove it. There was only me and the bottle recyclers out on the streets.

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Tourism is obviously a huge industry in this city with so many guesthouses, hotels, cafes & coffee shops, massage & tattoo parlours, travel agencies, taxis, and souvenir sellers. However, it’s pretty low key without too many flashing neon signs and nothing much over 3-4 stories high. Many signs are hand written – nailed to lamp posts, fences, and trees. I’ve seen several very new apartments and hotels, and construction sites abound – very typically Asian style with bamboo scaffolding and welders operating from ladders at precarious angles.

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It was pleasant walking the laneways and only a few westerners were up, having Sunday breakfasts together in the open-air restaurants attached to their hostels. I hadn’t come across any likely food carts for my second breakfast yet but then wasn’t that hungry after the first one. Eventually I could see footpath stalls up ahead and guessed Sompet Market must be close. Be strong I said to myself, don’t buy any unnecessary snacks today.

The first stall I came to outside of the market proper was a woman making the best looking plain omelettes. Nope – keep walking, you can always come back! Sompet is a fabulous little market. I could see two or three different groups having guided tours, one of them the Asian Cooking school participants in their red aprons learning about and gathering produce for the day’s classes.

The front row of stalls is very bright and orderly but delve deeper inside and there’s all sorts of interesting things happening. A whole trestle table of kaffir lime leaves spread out to dry; a huge pile of chopped shallots and coriander waiting to be used or bagged for sale; ingenious but simple devices to keep the flies off tables of uncovered meat – a ceiling fan suspended just over the table with frayed nylon rope attached to where the blades would normally be to make a switch that shooed the little blighters away.

I spotted a small tray of grilled vegetables on skewers in a back corner of an unmanned stall – shallots, garlic cloves, hot and mild chillies. I wanted some but couldn’t find the owner. After pointing and asking around I was eventually directed to a woman in the corner who was busy enjoying her bowl of soup. She came over, sold me the goods once taking them off the skewers so they could be reused, and went back to her soup.

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Soon after I found bags of pickled veg that looked amazing a few tables away. Sure enough they belonged to the same woman. I apologised for disturbing her meal again and offered some notes to pay. Meanwhile I’m chastising myself for not learning any Thai to get by in the markets. But people are very honest and they take the correct amount from my handful of coins or notes offered. Some proffer a calculator with the amount owing typed on the screen, others find a youngster – a son or daughter or even fellow customer who speaks English to assist.

Wandering back out front to the laneway I followed a young man carrying a tray of freshly barbequed fish back to his family stall. He spoke good English so I asked about his mothers’ pots of curries and the types of fish he’d cooked. Two grilled and skewered fillets of a pink fish the colour of salmon described as a “special Chinese fish” found their way into my bag as he pointed out the relative spiciness of the three fish curries on display.

The vision of the omelette from the lady out on the main street was still calling me so I went back out to her stall which was temporarily abandoned, but there were omelettes bagged and ready for sale. I peered over the table to a cooking pot sizzling on a gas ring on the footpath and saw some Pad Siew keeping warm – and it looked veggie. I eventually attracted someone’s attention – she was chatting on another stall – and pointed to the cooking pot. She laughed and started ladling some into a bag for me. I’m not sure she had quite finished cooking it yet but was willing to sell it to me anyway along with an omelette. A two-egg omelette and a decent bagful of noodles was 20 Baht (less than a dollar).

It was time to take my purchases home so I wander up and down the back lanes towards the flat, coming across the cooking school and the red-aproned students listening intently to their teacher under a shaded veranda. Nah – I’d rather buy from the experts while on holidays and I don’t cook much at home – but it looked like a very pleasant way to spend a day. I stopped off in a temple ground where the beginnings of a market were setting up. However, they looked a couple of hours off being ready to trade so I might come back later. I was bailed up there by three students with a clip board wanting a selfie with me, explaining they were studying English language conversation and this was part of their project. Happy to oblige I continued chatting but they’d got their photo and didn’t want to talk much more. Doing the bare minimum homework perhaps?

Without even thinking I put a plate on the kitchen bench as I unpacked my backpack and started ladling portions of my purchases out to taste everything. Pad siew, omelette, pickled veg and char-grilled onions and peppers- what a meal. Second breakfast down with plenty left over for at least one if not two more meals. Now to decide what’s next for the day.

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Only mad dogs and Englishmen……well I suppose I am English by birth. But the streets of Chiang Mai are not the place to be at 1pm on a stinking hot Sunday. I wanted to cover some ground over the South-East part of the old city so strolled off at 12.30. I soon realised my folly. Nothing was open save a few western style bars. Due to the sun directly overhead there was no shade and the heat was trapped between the walls in the narrow laneways. I was back in the cool of my room after an hour. At least I’d managed to avoid buying anymore snacks in that time!

TV time. I sipped my way through peppermint & ginger and rooibos teas that I’d brought with me while watching Channel News Asia and reminiscing of my wonderful month in Singapore last year. This station was main source of my offline media and I was so pleased to see the lovely Dawn Tan still presenting the current affairs.

Having a wee snack of quail egg fried wantons from the Sunday Night Market before dinner and beer. Wow – what an experience that was! I went way too early at 4.30pm when most of the stalls were still setting up, but it nice to hear the friendly banter between marketeers as they spread out their wares, put up their marquees and fired up the grills. I had no idea how enormous this market would be even after reading it was huge. I took me 3 hours without stopping to get from one to the other and back including most of the side roads, alleys, and temple for-courts.

I took a few snaps of interesting ideas, ate a small bowl of veg noodles with fiercely hot red chillies and patted a couple of dogs – but mostly I just kept shuffling from 4.30 to 7.30 pm. And even then, things were only just warming up.  Very glad I went early while the aisles were clear and could move a bit quicker. The Sunday Night Walking Market is worth doing once in its entirety – but only once. It’s exhausting even thinking about a 2nd attempt in the future.

I did well to restrict my food purchases although night market food is mostly fast and fried and double the price of produce market food so the temptation wasn’t so great tonight. But plenty of delicious left-overs in my fridge await along with an ice-cold Singha. Another great day in Chiang Mai.

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