Monday, November 3, 2014

Northern Thailand Vacay!

I recently decided that one of my favorite things about living in China is how easy it is to get the heck outta China.

A few weeks ago, Curtis and I agreed that we needed to take a breather from Beijing. I say "breather" because quite frankly, we needed to breathe. For several days in a row, the air quality here was deemed "hazardous" by the U.S. embassy, so it seemed like the most perfect time ever to escape to somewhere glorious (and non-toxic). After a quick Google flight search, off we went to Chiang Mai, Thailand! 

This was the view from the cab on the way to the airport. Beijing has taught me that my favorite kind of air is the invisible kind.

Our seven day getaway was mostly amazing, but as with most vacations, it included a few hiccups that I will briefly summarize here, lest you be too jealous of us having a mostly amazing trip.

1) We got a little bit burglarized. "How does one get a little bit burglarized?" you ask. Easy. We put a bunch of cash in our hotel safe (under the little carpet-y thing, no less!) and three days later, two of those cute hundred dollar bills went missing. Curtis knows because Curtis counted. Happily (and incredibly), the hotel owner happened to be around when Curtis went to complain, and he reimbursed us for the missing moola!

2) Our taxi to the airport never showed up. Looking back, maybe it was a sign that I should've stayed put in beautiful Chiang Mai? Whatever the case, we could only find a tuk-tuk to take us at the last minute. I would've taken a picture of how ridiculous we looked with all of our luggage crammed on top of us in the back of a tiny Thai tuk-tuk, but I was too busy making sure my bags and I wouldn't slide right out of the side as he sped through traffic and made quick turns. Good times!

Here you have a Thai tuk-tuk.

3) I dramatically fell down. At the end of what was a very long day, my knees basically failed to lock as I stepped out of our tour van while waving a pageant-style goodbye to everyone. So there I was, hugging the sidewalk while a van full of horrified fellow tour-goers (not to mention a horrified Curtis) gasped in unison. Thankfully, my natural reaction when I fall down is to laugh hysterically, which lets everyone immediately know that I am okay and maybe a little bit crazy. This is the third time I've dramatically fallen in my adult life, and since everything happens in threes, this obviously means I'm done with that and can now move on to doing other wonderfully embarrassing things in public.

Okay, now for all the stuff we LOVED about our vacation (you might as well get comfy, because there was a lot)...

Thai cooking class at Asia Scenic Cooking School
I knew we were in for a glorious day when our extremely animated cooking instructor (top right) introduced himself as, "Sexy A." After a grocery store stop and tour of the cooking school's organic garden, Sexy A taught us to cook everything from green papaya salad and spring rolls, to coconut chicken soup, curries, and desserts. He pranced around as we cooked, saying awesome things like, "If you cook more spicy, then you more sexy! How sexy are YOU?" (For the record, I am decidedly unsexy.)

Thai Mangos!!!!!
Mango with sticky rice might be my favorite thing to eat on the planet, and we ate it multiple times a day in Chiang Mai. The rice is sweetened and flavored with coconut milk, then coconut cream is poured over the whole thing. Sometimes they'll even throw in a side of mango ice cream for extra fun. Sexy A taught us how to make sticky rice, but said we may not find the correct kind of rice in our home countries. In that case, he helpfully instructed us to simply eat a mango, close our eyes, and pretend we are in Thailand.

Weekend Walking Streets (Night Markets)
In addition to having statues of cute Buddhist monks and colorful shoes with pom-poms on them, the weekend night markets of Chiang Mai are known to be THE place to bargain for pretty much anything you can think of. I wandered around for HOURS while Curtis opted to indulge in the sidewalk massages that were being offered on every block to weary travelers for $6 an hour.

Street Food
Chiang Mai is kind of a street food paradise. The little carts line the streets and night markets and make all sorts of delicious things for about $1-$2 a serving. As a result, we were forced to eat pretty much constantly throughout the day. I say, "forced" because everything was so freakin' tempting and scrumptious and we are only human after all.

The White Temple in Chiang Rai
If you've got a Buddhist temple laying around and you're wondering how to make it infinitely cooler, let me suggest that you make the whole thing white and shimmery. This temple symbolizes the purity of Buddha and all kinds of other stuff about escaping greed and other evils through Buddha's teachings. Mostly though, you just end up thinking that it looks like an amazing castle for the luckiest princess that ever did live. Note the "no smoking" sign on the right. I wants one.

Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle is where Thailand meets Myanmar and Laos. We took a boat to Laos where we got to wander around for 30 minutes looking at great souvenirs like snake wine (bottom right) and white-people dolls dressed in ethnic clothing (bottom middle). Then we got to see the border to Myanmar where we witnessed a guy casually jump over two barbed wire fences to cross into Thailand for what our tour guide guessed was his daily crack-smuggling commute. I do not think that was a planned part of the tour, so we were quite lucky, indeed.

Karen Longneck Village
Originally from Myanmar, I later read that this tribe mainly exists in Thailand for the tourists. That makes a lot of sense since they seemed far more eager to slap rings on our necks and ribbons on our heads for pictures than they were to teach us about their culture. We also watched them weave scarves that they really wanted everyone to buy. So I did. Because buying scarves from women with long necks is a new thing I do.

Doi Suthep Temple
Located on Doi Suthep mountain, this Theravada Buddhist temple is said to have been founded in 1383. It's a very sacred site for many Thai people, which means you must try very hard not to drool as you stand there with your mouth open while admiring all the shiny golden-ness that's absolutely everywhere.

Overall, Curtis and I decided that we really love Thailand. We are definitely not alone in our love for this country. During our time there, we met sweet, interesting, quirky, and adventurous people from Malaysia, Canada, Korea, Germany, Finland, and Sweden. Everybody agreed that Thailand, and Chiang Mai in particular, is very lovable, indeed.

So... next time the air becomes unbreathable where you are, this would be a most excellent place to go!