Cooking and Eating Our Way Through the Pearl of the North – Chiang Mai, Thailand

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We left ancient Ayutthaya on a daytime train headed to Thailand’s main northern city, Chiang Mai. After a couple of fairly good experiences on the Thai rail network, we were looking forward to our train journey. Unfortunately, this time we were not so lucky. After crawling out of the station, we soon found our train stalled at the very next station, with vague “technical difficulties” cited. Hours upon hours of delays started piling on top of each other, with tons of random stops and breakdowns. Eventually, we were transferred to a bus for the final leg of the journey, arriving some five hours behind schedule.

On the plus side, once we finally made it to there, we found ourselves in a fantastic guesthouse in the old part of town. Even though it’s Thailand’s second largest city, we found Chiang Mai to be a pleasant and peaceful place, filled with delicious food and interesting historic sights.

A narrow road through Chiang Mai's pleasant old city.A narrow road through Chiang Mai's pleasant old city.
A narrow road through Chiang Mai's pleasant old city.15-Mar-2012 14:24
 

Northern Thailand has its own distinct culture and cuisine, borrowing heavily from surrounding countries in Southeast Asia. One of Chiang Mai’s culinary specialties is Khao Soi, a spicy Burmese influenced noodle soup. We went crazy eating this yummy dish, consuming it at least once a day from the many local restaurants and street food vendors.

Delicious khao soi - a Burmese influenced dish popular in northern Thailand.Delicious khao soi - a Burmese influenced dish popular in northern Thailand.
Delicious khao soi - a Burmese influenced dish popular in northern Thailand.13-Mar-2012 21:18
 

Another local specialty is Chiang Mai sausage, a grilled spicy pork sausage. It can be found all over the city, in huge curled links slowly cooking at hundreds of market and street-side locations.

Chiang Mai sausage. Fantastic stuff!Chiang Mai sausage. Fantastic stuff!
Chiang Mai sausage. Fantastic stuff!14-Mar-2012 10:56
 

One of the best places to sample all of these delicacies is the weekly Sunday Night Market, when the major streets cutting through the old city are shut down to traffic and sellers offering clothes, jewelry, and trinkets line the sidewalks.

The Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market.The Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market.
The Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market.18-Mar-2012 20:42
 

A couple different food courts spring up around the market, including one centered around a beautiful Buddhist temple.

A food court in one of the city's many temples.A food court in one of the city's many temples.
A food court in one of the city's many temples.18-Mar-2012 21:36
 

We took great pleasure sampling all the different foods on offer, from sausage to khao soi to neon-colored desserts.

Pad Thai lady dishing it up hot and fresh.Pad Thai lady dishing it up hot and fresh.
Pad Thai lady dishing it up hot and fresh.18-Mar-2012 21:39
 

Not only content with devouring all these yummy treats, we decided to take one of the many cooking classes the city is famous for. Our class started mid-morning at one of the vibrant markets, where we bought supplies for the dishes we would be preparing and learned about the fresh ingredients central to Thai cooking.

Beautiful local ingredients at the morning market.Beautiful local ingredients at the morning market.
Beautiful local ingredients at the morning market.14-Mar-2012 11:10
 

Then we got to work slicing, pounding, and grounding all sorts of delicious dishes, among them our beloved khao soi, pad thai, spring rolls, and finishing off with banana in coconut milk.

Putting together a yummy Thai curry.Putting together a yummy Thai curry.
Putting together a yummy Thai curry.14-Mar-2012 15:21
 

Along the way we also learned some basic techniques for ornamental carving of vegetables, an old tradition previously reserved for Thai royalty.

Heather's carved carrot flowers.Heather's carved carrot flowers.
Heather's carved carrot flowers.14-Mar-2012 13:56
 

The most exciting part of the day was when we cranked up our woks and nearly singed our eyebrows from the hot ball of fire that shot towards the ceiling.

Feeling the heat in the kitchen!Feeling the heat in the kitchen!
Feeling the heat in the kitchen!14-Mar-2012 16:19
 

Despite packing a bunch of leftovers, we were still completely stuffed by the the end of the day. Still, we were glad we had learned to make so many of the excellent dishes we had grown to love traveling the country.

Our take on khao soi.Our take on khao soi.
Our take on khao soi.14-Mar-2012 15:36
 

No visit to Chiang Mai would be complete without a visit to the Doi Suthep temple, 15km from the city center and situated at the top of a 1,600m hill. The weather had been fairly hazy, so we waited for a clear day before hopping in a series of shared songthaew taxis to make the journey uphill.

Doi Suthep temple.Doi Suthep temple.
Doi Suthep temple.16-Mar-2012 15:14
 

At the top, we were treated to great views of the area along with the glistening temple.

Well-wishers from around the world signed this cloth at the temple.Well-wishers from around the world signed this cloth at the temple.
Well-wishers from around the world signed this cloth at the temple.16-Mar-2012 15:42
 

Heather and I decided to get our fortunes, which can be determined by shaking a can of chopsticks. You then match the number printed on the first chopstick to drop out with a pre-printed fortune found on the wall. My fortune hinted at good things to come, but Heather wasn’t too pleased with hers.

Getting a chopstick fortune.Getting a chopstick fortune.
Getting a chopstick fortune.16-Mar-2012 15:29
 

After more than a week in Chiang Mai, we were ready to roll up our sleeves and help volunteer at the nearby Elephant Nature Park, where we would be caring for these gentle giants in the nearby foothills.

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