Our holiday adventure certainly lived up to its name! Do you recall how my last post ended aboard flight number two? Well the third flight had a little unexpected twist. We arrived in Bangkok at 7:40pm and our flight to Chiang Mai was scheduled for 9:40pm. I had researched through Google flights and found not only an amazing price on the Seychelles-Bangkok flights but also found if I booked the Bangkok-Chiang Mai flight separately I could save us over $500. I had verified the flight time as being the exact time it would have left Bangkok had I booked it all together to ensure sufficient layover time and gave myself a little pat on the back for taking the time to find the best value. Yay me!
Bangkok is a massive airport. I was instantly impressed with how efficient it was which ironically turned out to be our saving grace. That and the people. I cannot begin to describe how the people we interacted with in the first fifteen minutes changed our entire experience. We stopped at the information desk and I asked if she could direct us to the domestic terminal. She looked at the booking I handed her and calmly replied This flight is out of a different airport. There are buses that can take you there but given the time I would recommend a taxi. Insert little twist. Okay. That was something I had not apparently verified. Given her demeanor I was not concerned as we proceeded to immigration (no line) and I converted US dollars to baht (also no line). We headed towards baggage and followed the signs down to the taxi queue. The line there was extremely long so I showed the attendant our itinerary and she said Come with me. We followed her to the front of the line where she printed a tag and directed us to our waiting spot. We were in the vehicle within minutes. Our driver did not speak English so I showed him the itinerary and pointed to the departure time. We had no idea at that point how far away the other airport was however I was envisioning a ten minute commute as would be the case in my home state of Minnesota. You are not in Minnesota any more girlfriend! At one point MC calmly asked what time the following flight departed. I replied an hour later with a vague recollection that there was indeed a later flight but I was not necessarily that confident. After a stunning impromptu tour of Bangkok at night we arrived thirty-five minutes prior to departure. The woman at the check in desk smiled patiently while printing our boarding passes and said You may need to run as it is the furthest gate. All I could do was nod and chuckle at this point because the only thought that came to mind was the famous line from Dumb and Dumber. So you’re saying there’s a chance? We hightailed it through security (once again no line!) and off we went to the end of the airport, arriving winded to be greeted once again by smiling attendants. Board, door shut, take off. It felt like it happened within two minutes. Our very own Christmas miracle! I would be seriously remissed if I did not honestly admit that this is the way I would always love to travel. I get bored to death waiting in airports. On the flipside, however, my better half has had some horrific travel experiences within the African continent and is exactly the opposite. He wants to be at the gate physically immediately upon arrival with plenty of time to spare. I understand completely. I certainly have my own idiosyncrasies. I thanked him profusely for his patience and then teased him that as promised he will never have a dull moment with me as his wife. As MC napped on the short hour flight I reminisced about the amazing impact the first Thai people had had on me. Everyone we had encountered was kind, friendly and most importantly had a positive mindset. It was incredibly inspiring. I had known that this trip was going to be extra special and it certainly was off to the right start!
We arrived at our Airbnb in the Su Thep neighborhood of Chiang Mai close to 11pm local time after departing Seychelles at five that morning. Check in involved grabbing the key from a mailbox and up we went to our quiet modern studio condo. While I freshened up MC scouted a bar for a cold beer and a street food vendor still open for business both within a stones throw. This spicy pork noodle bowl of love was well worth fifteen hours of travel. We immediately decided we could live here happily ever after. Two bowls cost us the equivalent of $2.50.
The next morning we were up bright and early for our Thai cooking class. It began at the local farmers market where the instructor explained some of the key ingredients in Thai cooking. Kefir lime, lemongrass, lime leaves, Thai ginger and basil, garlic, green papaya and multiple types of chili. From there we were transported to a beautiful property outside of town with a large organic garden and three outdoor kitchens. We chose which dishes we each wanted to prepare and she skillfully walked us through the prep of all of the ingredients.
I especially loved that they handled the range of experience amongst us expertly and that we had a great group of young cooks with us who were just as excited to learn as they were to eat. Our first courses included Tom Yum and Tom Som soups as well as cashew chicken and hot basil chicken which is locally known as pad ka pow. We sat down to enjoy our creations and were quite impressed with ourselves! Next up was learning to prepare the chili pastes. MC made panang while my group chose green curry. Both were intense workouts with the mortar and pestle but the smell was well worth the labor. We moved to the gas burners and got down to business. When the dishes were prepared we went back to the kitchen to mix a traditional Thai tea to accompany it. After enjoying the main course the rest of the group was done for the day while we were sent to break before the second half of our lesson. MC was in a full on food coma mode and took the opportunity to nap in the garden.
Next we learned spring rolls, green papaya salad and larb gai which is a spicy minced chicken salad. At this point, we needed to surrender to take away containers as we had no room left. Or so we thought!
Our final lesson was mango sticky rice and fried bananas. Okay, we will make room! We gobbled it all up and headed back filled with culinary inspiration. How could it possibly get any better than this? We figured out quickly that if we said that every day we were consistently proven that indeed, it absolutely could. Can you believe we still made room that evening for our pork noodles? It seemed like the right thing to do to support the young husband and wife team!
The next morning we decided we needed to take a long walk to work up an appetite. Our primary intention had been to dive deep into the street food of Thailand and yet as I researched there were reviews for a place I felt we just had to try. The name of the place is Tikky Café and one look at the kitchen will tell you that it is something special. Nestled in a tiny garden area of a small side street just inside the old city we were treated to a culinary experience I will never forget. During our short wait we met a Canadian who lives in Chiang Mai for several months of the year. He said he eats there at least twice a week and always has difficulty choosing because it is all to die for. I love it when my instinct is spot on! I began with a mango passion fruit smoothie that was heavenly and MC had an iced mocha that was, to put it mildly, potent. It was exactly the pampering he deserved after a day of having to work for his food. He enjoyed reading the Lonely Planet Chiang Mai guide book as I admired the beautiful garden and dishes passing by. Our selections, upon arrival, did not disappoint!
MC chose the seafood Tom Yum and ordered it Thai spicy. I am certain this bowl cures any major disease that ails you. We just kept thinking it could not possibly be this good. The tangy lime and creamy coconut milk flavors still came through the power packed heat of the chilis. It was the best soup either of us have ever eaten. This is an extremely bold statement for a man who was scarred for life with an over abundance of soup in his childhood and thus does not care for liquid in a bowl of any variety. It also surpassed a soup I swore would never be beat from a now burned-down Minneapolis icon called Heidi’s that prepared a pork and prawn soup that I can still taste nearly twenty years later. We both sat in a slight daze of awe and wonderment. We were living the foodie dream both simultaneously thinking This is the best thing that I have ever eaten in my life!
Next came the perfect way to balance the heat. Cashew pineapple seafood rice. Once again, my mind was blown. By rice you ask? All I can say is fly there and eat it if you want to challenge my taste buds. It made me feel as though I had not truly tasted food until this moment. It was a whole new level of achievement in my culinary world. It is probably the quietest my husband has ever witnessed me as each time I tried to open my mouth I was either at a loss for words or taking another bite. With an additional red curry pork dish and a fruit plate that was more reminiscent of an orchard on a plate that were both equally fresh and delicious our tab came to less than 500baht. That, my friends, is less than fifteen US dollars. Ponder that, let it sink in, and then research flights. It was undoubtedly one of the top five meals of my life.
We wandered aimlessly for a while in our bliss and ended up at an outdoor veranda offering foot massage. We spent the next half hour laughing our heads off like naughty children in church. Massage in Thailand is something I believe one has to experience at least once in their lifetime. They look like sweet innocent ladies and yet their hands somehow have the strength of Hercules. It is a mild form of torture that forces your body to succumb to its natural state of health whether you go willingly or not. I believe I shed a tear or two despite my attempts to laugh through the pain but once I stood up I felt six inches taller and like a million bucks. I do not believe you will find a massage cheaper anywhere in the world so it is sort of a crime to not participate.
From there we began meandering through the old city in search of a gate known in English as the White Elephant. It is one of many in this city that dates back to 1296. The adventure in Chiang Mai will be continued as there was just too much fun, food and photos to include in only one post. Stay tuned!