Archive for the ‘Northern Thailand’ Category

  • Huay Xai, border town

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    We have been already 2 times in Huay Xai. The first one was on our first day in Laos, when we just crossed the border and spent the rest of the day wandering around the main street, looking for good food (which we didn’t find anywhere) and for information on what to do in Laos, since we had cross the border without having any idea of what to do next. We have been told by many people that Laos is great, so we were so looking forward to get in there that we didn’t even plan the first days of our stay. We were a little disappointed due to the fact that we could not communicate with people (not even with our now well developed skills in body language) as we wanted to.

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    The second time was after some days, when we came back from our trip to the Laos northern region, Muang Sing and the tribal villages. This time we knew what to expect from the town and could enjoy more our short stay there. We found a cheaper guest house, a better place to eat and the information we needed to catch a slow boat to navigate the Mekhong river on the next morning.

  • Thai gastronomy

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    Apart of their eternal smile, Thais have another quality. Like other Asian societies, the people of Siam have a natural ability to produce choice cuisine. There aren’t just temples, beautiful beaches, rice paddies and smiling people in Thailand, there’s also the gastronomy and the seasoned traveller will tell you that the fine Thai cuisine is well worth the detour.

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    The art of Thai cooking is based on simple principles but it is vast, sumptuous and can be elaborate – in any case, its possibilities are endless. The immense menus in the local restaurants bare witness to this. No matter where you go in Thailand, food is never far away. The variety of places to eat is simply astonishing. Street stalls, food courts and outdoor markets may be the cheapest and tastier option.

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    Showing its Burmese, Chinese and Shan influences, the north prefers curries that are more stewlike than the coconut-milk curries of southern or central Thailand. Sour notes are enhanced with the addition of pickled cabagge and lime. Of course many dishes are accompanied by the inevitable Thai rice, which can come in two forms – the classic long grain rice or as rice noodles (khoueitiao). With the latter, however, there are, like a lot of other foods, a lot of different ways to cook them. Asians have a reputation for cooking ‘light’ by boiling ingredients or by steaming food. They do use oil as in deep-fried dishes and to sauté food in their famous stir-fried wok dishes.

    One of the inconvenients that we have found related to food is that Thai people are usually not vegetarians. They love adding any kind of meat or fish to their dishes (beef, chicken, pork, duck, porcupine, turtles, frogs, snakes, lizards, crickets, silk worms and cockroaches among others). So one of the first sentences that we learnt quickly was Diichãn kin ahãan mangsàwirát (I am vegetarian).

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  • Mae Salong and the hill tribe villages

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    After spending a couple of days in Thaton and the surroundings, we headed up north to Mae Salong. As it’s becoming usual lately in our trip, we hitched all the way up to the little town, since transport here (limited to sawngthaew, which is like a van for up to 8 people) is not very regular and a bit more expensive. A winding mountain road leads over 20 km from the foothill to the top through beautiful woodland landscapes.

    Doi Mae Salong village is a settlement up on top a high mountain peak, out in the middle of Chiang Rai’s mountain country, commanding a grand view of green mountain ridges stretching out to the far horizon in breathtaking panorama. The villagers are ethnic Chinese descendants of the KTM nacionalist army regime that took refuge in Thailand almost 50 years ago when Communist forces won the civil war in mainland China. Staying here gives you the feeling of having being transported to China. Chinese language rather than Thai is more frequently spokern here. Almost all the noticeboards are writen in chinese characteres. The food menu is mainly chinese. The land’s severe inclines boast terraces of tea and coffee plantations and there are tea houses all around.

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    An early morning visit to the interesting market (make sure you go there between 5 and 7 a.m.) gives you good chances to see and interact with the town residents and many tribespeople of the hill villages surrounding the town (Akha, Lisu, Lahu, Hmong and Karen among others).

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    We stayed in Shin Sane Guest House, one of the best guest-oriented lodges we have found so far in northern Thailand. The rooms were pretty basic, but laundry was free, internet access very cheap and the owner was very friendly and helpful, giving loads of information and even a handmade map of the area, so you could trek independiently through all the surrounding hill tribe villages. We did a couple of treks and ended up completely knakered (20 km trek in just one morning!!), all wet and miserable, since the monsoon caught us up on the way back, but feeling so happy to be able to trek alone on that marvellous sceneries and been received with smiles in the villages we visited.

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  • Thai cooking lesson in Chiang Mai

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    One of the reasons why we came to Thailand was for its culinary delights. It was not the beaches nor the big cities, although we would like visit them too, it was the food that called our attention more than anything else. So far in our trip in the country we have been meeting different ethnics and tasting many different regional specialities and we love the way Thais have to prepare their food and how good it taste always!

    So once in Chiang Mai, the culinary capital of the north of Thailand and a very famous city for its restaurant and cooking schools, we have decided to join a one day cooking lesson in “The Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School”. On this one day, starting at around 9 am we visited one local market where we were explained about the different types of rice and about the way to extract coconut cream and milk.

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    After buying all the necessary ingredients in the market we drove almost 20 km to the organic farm where the courses are held. The first thing was to cook sticky and steamed rice before going for a walk in the farm to see where all these delicious vegetables, herbs and spices come from. Then we cooked 4 different dishes each: one curry paste (yellow and green), the respective curry (yellow and green) with tofu and vegetables (although it could have been cooked with chicken or pork), one Tom Yam and one Thai Vegetable soups, tofu with basil leaves and tofu with cashew nuts stir-fries.

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    The time to taste and lunch arrived and we ate all these 4 dishes we had already cooked, or at least a part of them since it was too much food to eat at the same time. With the stomach completely full and wanting to have a nap we continued cooking 2 more thai specialities each: Pad Thai Fried Noodles and Spring Rolls and Bananas in Coconut Milk and Mango with Sticky Rice for dessert. We were not able even to try them because we where completely full but we packed every dish in a plastic bag and took them with us for that day’s dinner time.

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    Finally we were brought back to our hotel in Chiang Mai, where we finally could eat the rest of the things. We had a great time in the farm, learnt some good things that we are looking forward to show to our friends and family, and made some new friends who we hope to meet again somewhere else during our trip. See you guys!!

  • Trekking in Umphang

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    Early in the morning we got up, had breakfast and started our 3 hour long trip down south along the sinuous mountain roads. We all four –Julia, Hector and a couple of kiwi guys- end up feeling motion sickness due to the over 1200 bends of the way. Appart from that, the first day of the trek was perfect. We started with a 4 hour rafting in the Mae Klong river, stoping aside to collect “jungle food” such as bamboo shoots and mushrooms. Then we arrived to a camp on the river side, where we prepared dinner –Thai food of course- and where we spent the night and felt asleep hearing the beautiful jungle sounds.

     

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    The second day started with another 2 hour raft down the river, entertained with the moonson rain and some more stops along the way before starting a 3 hours trek –all wet and miserable- through muddy paths in the jungle forest. It was great that they provided us rubber boots for the trek, so that we felt confident and free to step anywhere, either streams, puddles or mud. The trek ended in a kind of camp site near the National Park entrance where we spent the whole afternoon and night with other people from other trekking companies, still raining…

     

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    On the third day we visited the highest waterfall in Thailand (Tee Lor Su, which in Karen language means waterfall), it was quite impresive and full of water at this time of the year, although we missed the opportunity to swim in one of its pools due to the heavy rain and the chilled air. On the way back to the camp, where our guides were waiting for us, we had the best experience of the trek when we found a 1,5 meter long King snake –apparently quite poisonous, as our guides told us later- and played with it for a while. It was the first time we have seen such a big and dangerous snake in its habitat and it was one of the few animals we were able to see during this trek (they either don’t like rain or us).

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    After that we kept on walking –all the different groups separated although very close to each other- on the way to the Karen village where we were supposed to spend the night with a local family. We didn’t feel very welcomed in the village and could not interact much neither with children nor with adults of the tribe, they did’t seem very interested in us, so we respected them. We arranged a gathering though with all the non locals in town: the tourists and their guides. We spent a nice evening with an international taste: kiwis, english, danish, thais and spanish all together singing and chating for many hours.

     

     

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    The fourth and last day was the shortest and also the worst one since we only did the way back to Umphang on the back of an elephant, who didn’t seem to be very happy with the treatment it received from its owner (bastard!), plus the uncomfortability of this kind of transport. From there we were driven back to Mae Sot, where we spent hours chating with Mr Om and had a very good recovering night on a mattress again.

  • Mae Sot

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    Thanks to a very friendly Thai family who picked us up from the side of the road after we were waiting for a a bus which was not coming and decided then to try to hitch-hike, we arrived in Mae Sot after a good 4 hours ride under the sun and the rain and against the wind, sitting on the back of their pick up van.

     

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    Somebody had told us about the Nº4 guesthouse so we decided to look for it and check it. We got a quite basic room with a mattress on the floor and a -very important- mosquito net, but for only 2 euro a night. Besides, the guest house was an old teak house with a lot of character and full of Thai artifacts and music instruments hand made by Mr. Om.

    We came to Mae Sot with the idea of joining a trekking tour through the jungle to any hill tribe village of the area and Nº4 guesthouse had been one of the first companies arranging this kind of tours for “farangs” –western tourists in thai language-. Mr Om, owner of the guesthouse and former tour guide, seemed to be very professional although a little bit shy and taciturn person. After having red feedbacks of other travellers and a couple of different guidebooks rewiews, we decided to book a 4 day-3 night trekking with his company, starting the next morning travelling on a van to a southern town on the Tak province, Umphang, the closest town to the National Park of the Tee Lor Su Waterfall and close to the Burmese border.