Thai Cooking class at the AsiaScenic Farm

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On Sunday while the guys we off downhill mountain biking I took cooking class. I eventually decided on the all day cooking class at the AsiaScenic Farm. The day started with a 9:30 AM pick up at my apartment before we stopped at the MaeJo Market, close the MaeJo University.

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This is Pui(say it with a rising tone!), our guide and instructor for the day. Here she is showing us some of the produce that we will be using in our dishes today. There is actually a ton more at the market than just vegetables and fruit. You can buy rice, noodles, any spices, lunch and any spices that you need there.

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Got to have some delicious peppers when you’re making Thai food. Pui shared with us that the smaller the pepper the hotter it will be. Also that fresh chilis are more hot than dried ones, and that red ones are always hotter than green. Good to know when you’re about to spend all day cooking!

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For some reason the carrots just look more cute in Thailand.

After the market we all piled into the minivan and headed over the the farm. It was about a 20 minute drive. Not bad.

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Our first glimpse of the farm! It is a very relaxin place with an outdoor cooking area, a large garden, and plenty of hammocks to relax in between dishes!

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First thing we did was to put on some straw hats and take a tour of the gardens. Lots of the produce that we used was actually grown organically at the farm. Pretty cool.

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These blue flowers have medicinal properties and Thai people sometimes make a tea from them. Pui said they don’t taste like much so people usually add a little lime or something to it. They’re also great for dyeing food and we are going to use these in our Mango and Sticky Rice dish.

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To get us into the cooking mood we had a traditional snack of lime (with peel), galangal, toasted coconut, onion, peanut, syrup and a chili. We used lettuce leaves here but normally you would use a betel leaf. Surprisingly tasty! I had two.

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My first dish, Pad Thai! While it didn’t come out all that well (I think I overcooked it) it was exciting to start cooking. Once I was more familiar with the utensils and format things went a lot better.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from this Spicy Chicken Salad but it was really delicious, it came out really well. The egg roll was also very tasty with some sweet chili dipping sauce.

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Next we had to make some curry paste in order to make our curry dishes with a mortar and pestle! It wasn’t so bad taking turns but my arm was really sore by the end. Pui said that our paste was really small and that she was impressed. Most groups still have really big chunks.

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This is my Tom Yum Soup. Easily my favorite dish of the day, but it was really spicy!

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Next I decided to make Kao Soi for my curry. It had a good flavor but because I used a lot of chili paste it was too thick. Not all that spicy however. Everyone else was using only 1-3 tablespoons (not spicy to mild) of curry paste in their curry dish, so I just had to use 5 tablespoons (spicy!). Someone had to do it!

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Last but not least was the mango sticky rice. The blue rice is actually dyed from the flowers that we picked earlier in the day. I’m really glad that I decided to try this dish again. The first time that I had Mango and sticky rice the mango was kind of green and the sticky rice was just rice mixed with a sticky syrup. This was really tasty and I would definitely make it for dessert.

After lounging and leisurely finishing our last dishes Pui gave us a copy of their recipe book and we all piled into the minivan to go back home. I was dropped off at my apartment at around 4:30PM, it was a long day!

Overall I would definitely recommend taking a cooking class and choosing one with a trip to the market. It really makes you feel like it’s something that you could get the ingredients for and do yourself. Cooking Thai food was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I am excited about making it when I get back home!

Lunch at Huen Muan Jai

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After a long week and graduating our 15 day Thai class I was just exhausted. All we did on Friday was relax and check out a new northern Thai restaurant called Huen Muan Jai. The restaurant is mostly outdoors on a wooden deck. Mosquito spray is provided for free although I don’t think we needed it. It was lovely to sit out on the shaded deck and to feel the breeze.

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We got all northern dishes, nam prick ong, gueng hang lay, and kao soi. All were pretty good but the Kao soi really stood out. It’s a pretty cheap and delicious lunch, I think that we will definitely have to get it again.

Galae and the Chiang Mai zoo

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On Wednesday we went out to lunch with our Thai class at the beautiful Galae restaurant. The location is right by the river amongst a lovely garden. After a delightful lunch filled with a variety of Northern favorites including Nam Prik Ong, Gueng Hang lay, and deep fried seabass with crispy galangal we went for a short walk along the grounds.

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While driving the scooters around we noticed that we were quite near the Chiang Mai zoo. The entrance was very odd, it almost looked like a private compound and there were no buses or other people besides the two in a small kiosk. We were able to buy tickets there and started walking towards the closest attraction. As it turned out we actually had entered at a small side entrance! We spent ages walking the steep road towards the actual zoo and past some very unusual signs, for example one read “Hormone extraction office” or something along those lines. I wonder if that is a mistranslation or they really extract hormones there?

Next time I would definitely take the time to find the real entrance. We had to walk over a very steep road for a long time and we then had to walk even further to find a place that sold tickets for the bus. In fact we almost had to buy two tickets for the bus around the park because they end at the entrance. Very annoying! I wish those guards had advised us to drive to the actual entrance.

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Once we got over our disappointment with the entrance situation we had a lot of fun. A highlight for me was seeing the pandas! There are only two but as they only cost 100 baht extra for the ticket we thought it was worth it. We got lucky in that the zoo keepers had put out some fresh bamboo just before we got there and one of the pandas we just hanging out eating bamboo really close to the edge of the enclosure. We were maybe 6-8 feet away here. Crazy!

Another cool thing that I almost forgot to mention is that you can feed nearly any animal at the zoo. That’s right, even the carnivores! My SO was brave and decided to feed one of the jaguars. So weird! We also feed a giraffe, an elephant, and some deer.

We did skip the super expensive aquarium but I think with the pandas and various opportunities to feed the animals the zoo is so much fun. I couldn’t recommend it enough. Definitely a different experience than going back home. Just make sure that you go in the main entrance, it will save you a lot of hassle.

Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

IMG_0722On Tuesday after Thai class we all went to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, a Hmong mountain town with a waterfall garden, then took a quick jaunt through the Bpuping Palace grounds. It was a busy day!

Beautiful view of Chiang Mai!
Beautiful view of Chiang Mai!

Wat Prathat Doi Suthep is interesting in that unlike a lot of the other Wats it is actually far up in the mountains. Tourists have a choice of either paying 50 baht a piece and taking the tram or walking all 306 steps to get to the top. We decided to take the tram. It’s short and there is not much of a view, so actually I might consider walking up next time.

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The temple itself is beautiful and while somewhat crowded with other tourists from Thailand it felt like it belonged on top of the mountain.

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This fruit was actually what started my exotic fruit kick. It is called a physalis and is related to the tomato. While the winter season isn’t the best time to find ripe fruit we have managed to try a rose apple, jack fruit, some weird almost rum tasting fruit that I forget the name of, and my favorite so far dragon fruit. I’m really curious about this fruit called the sugar apple. I hope that we can have a taste of it before leaving Chiang Mai.

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After the temple we drove around for a while looking for the Bhuping Palace and found this Hmong village. There was a long winding road filled with market stalls to the top of a hill where we found this beautiful terraced garden and waterfall.

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No idea what this does.

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After backtracking we realized that we had driven past the entrance to the Bhuping Palace without even noticing! Luckily we got there 30 minutes before closing and were able to see the grounds. Very beautiful gardens although you are not allowed in any of the buildings.

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Le Grand Lanna Traditional Thai Dinner with Dance Show

Last Sunday night my boyfriend and I decided to eat at Le Grand Lanna restaurant, a traditional Thai restaurant with a dance show. The restaurant itself is located at the Dharva Dhevi which is a very nice hotel resort complex.

Unfortunately my iPhone is not great in low light conditions and my videos are frankly blurry, too dark, and have the family seated in front of us in them. However the hotel grounds have a great atmosphere and the restaurant is done up in an impressive imitation of the traditional Lanna teak architecture. We sat outside on the porch overlooking a garden below and underneath a large tree with lanterns glowing in the upper branches. Very romantic!

It really is amazing how they almost seem to tell stories with their hands. I’m not sure that you can see it in this video but they move their fingers in these intricate poses. Beautiful.

The only thing that I would change about the evening is that my poor SO’s chicken curry was undercooked. He didn’t tell me until we were headed home but I wish that he had. He still enjoyed the show but said that the curry left him feeling ill. Because of that while I did enjoy the night I don’t think that we would come again.

The Night Market, the view from Doi Suthep and Wat Suan Dok

Last night we finally got a chance to check out the famous Chiang Mai Night Market! We parked near Anusarn and walked along the strip for a while, trying to bargain and checking out the different shops. They actually seemed pretty pricey compared to some of the other places that we’ve shopped in Thailand, but it seems like the shop attendants are ready and willing to bargain.

Eventually we found an open air food court with live music. It was a nice break after the wall to wall shops. We spent an hour getting food and enjoying a guitar and violin duet.

This morning I went to my Thai class as usual. Class is really getting hard! We cover so much and we’ve learned enough now to start getting things confused. Today I struggled to understand what everyone was saying. A total contrast from yesterday which went well. I did study more on Tuesday than the other night, but I also think that it’s fatigue building up from the whole week.

On the other hand I’ve been thinking in Thai more and more. I’m also starting to get kind of creative. For example while I don’t have much of a vocabulary I was thinking about different ways that I could explain myself in various scenarios. Like I don’t know the word for gas, but I bet it’s either just gas or if that’s not it I could probably make myself understood by saying something like motorcycle water, which while it probably isn’t correct might get the point across.

After class we got some lunch at a western style bistro called Rustic & Blue. I got the Brekkie Stack, a short stack of french toast with bacon and a fried egg, all drizzled with maple syrup. That was really tasty, plus the bacon was cooked nice and crispy which is difficult to find in Thailand. To drink I had a yerba mate tea. Also very nice.

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Originally we planned to drive our scooters up Doi Suthep again, however about 20 minutes into the ride right when we stopped to admire a good view of the city it started to drizzle. I did get a nice photo of Chiang Mai.

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Instead we decided to check out Wat Suan Dok, a nearby temple that hosts a monk chat. A monk chat is basically a session you can schedule with some of the younger monks to talk and ask any questions. You can have a simple chat or dive into advanced theology at your preference. We decided to save that for a different time and just admired the grounds.

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Afterward we went to Wat Umong, another temple in the Chiang Mai area that has the distinction of having a series of underground tunnels. My boyfriend actually looked up the history on it after we got home and learned that at one point the underground tunnels were painted like the jungle. Allegedly there was a famous but now senile monk that would wander off into the bush and these tunnels we a way to keep him at the monastery.

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While I’m not sure if that story is true, Wat Umong was different than all of the other temples that I have seen in Thailand and definitely one of the coolest. It is still occupied by monks but it has an older faded quality that I love. The bricks are slippery with old moss and it’s almost as if it is slowly being taken back by nature. While the walls inside the tunnels are now bare plaster and brick work, the walls are stained with incense and you can hear chanting off in the distance.

Finding a wifi extender in Thailand

Every time that I’ve needed something in Thailand it seems like my internet searches always lead me to the same place, a forum called ThaiVisa.com. Monday was no exception. When our internet signal still had problems after talking to the management we decided to get a wifi extender. This meant that we needed to find an electronics store in Chiang Mai. I read this thread and while it wasn’t exactly a wifi extender that they were talking about I thought that it was similar enough that I would be able to find what I was looking for.

Funny story, whenever I find something on ThaiVisa.com it’s usually a post that’s 2-3 years old. While I’m an optimist my boyfriend isn’t really. When we were looking for razor blades I spent the whole drive hoping that he wouldn’t ask me how old the post was, because I knew that he wouldn’t want to bother if he found out it was from 2013. After we found the razorblades I admitted this to him. He told me that he was wondering how old the post was but forgot to ask! Good thing I got lucky and the shop was still around!

Entrance to Icon. Not me in the photo!
Entrance to Icon. Not me in the photo!

Finding Icon was a little tricky, it’s moved to a building next door to it’s location on google maps. Either that or because of the streets you have to follow a circuitous route to get to the entrance. Luckily there were some signs posted on the nearby buildings and we were able to find it. There is even some scooter parking right outside the entrance, a definite plus.

Pretty dark in here but I tried to take a photo for you anyway!
Pretty dark in here but I tried to take a photo for you anyway!

Inside Icon is a collection of smaller shops sharing space in a large open floor. We weren’t sure how to navigate the store, but eventually we found some wifi routers. We started talking to the salesperson and tried to explain what we were looking for. As we talked I managed to spot one on a shelf which made things a lot easier! It was twice as expensive as one you can buy on Amazon.com back home, but with shipping it probably would have been the same price. Plus shipping from the US would take up to 30 days and we really needed it as soon as possible!

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For dinner we went to Birds of Paradise again. The fried fish with chili sauce was good, but not as good as the fish with three sauces dish. They also have lots of drinks and Western food that we should try sometime.

After dinner we picked up some beer at the 7-11 across the street and talked about living in Thailand. Overall it’s a lot different than we all thought it would be! Definitely easier than I was expecting. I’m having a lot of fun and I’m glad we decided to take a chance and come to Thailand!

Taking our scooter into the mountains of Chiang Mai

Yesterday we went up to Huai^ dtung tao^ on our scooters. It was a fun ride! We finally escaped the city and got to see some of the more rural villages.

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We stopped at this look out point to take in the epic view. Unfortunately my iPhone just didn’t have the capability to capture the full majesty of it. The mountains off in the distance created these varied blue shadows that looked awesome in person. You will have to use your imagination!

Looks dark but it really wasn't that day, it's just the contrast. I will have to try and fix it in Photoshop/
Looks dark but it really wasn’t that day, it’s just the contrast. I will have to try and fix it in Photoshop/

After riding around for a while we stopped at this Strawberry themed cafe. The hot chocolates and mocha we ordered in the restaurant were good, but I would recommend skipping the strawberry sodas and strawberry wine. The wine tastes a little like rubbing alcohol and the sodas taste exactly like strawberry jam. Below is the view from the outdoor cafe.

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We managed to go around the whole mountain in about three hours, not too bad! I know the guys had a lot of fun taking out their scooters.  We will definitely be back to check out more of the stops along the way next time.

What we did our first week in Chiang Mai

Today is Sunday and it has been exactly one week since we arrived in Chiang Mai. A lot has happened already! Unfortunately our internet has been down for the past few days, but after talking to the apartment manager it seems to be back and much better than before.

On Wednesday night we went to the Chubby Cat Cafe. It’s a business where you pay to meet with other people and play boardgames. Sort of like a social club. It was 30 baht per hour for each person, since we stayed for two hours we ended up paying 120 baht, or about $4 USD. Not too bad! It was a lot of fun and we met quite a few people. There were about half expats and half Thai people playing. The majority of people spoke English most of the time, but we overheard some conversations in Thai. First we played Age of War a couple of times, then we played a game called Shadow Hunters. I didn’t really know the rules so I didn’t play that well but it was still fun.

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On Thursday after Thai class we took our scooters up into the nearby mountains to the Monthathan Falls Nature Trail. It was nice to get out of the city. Plus it was a lot cooler up there! This photo is one of the first waterfalls that we saw. It was right next to the parking lot.

We decided to go on hike to see some of the other waterfalls. I’m not sure of the name of the trail, but there was a warning that only young and healthy people should go on this hike. Far from the leisurely stroll that we were expecting! Half of the trail was steep uneven steps, and quite a few of the boards were coming loose! We managed to get through it but I think it was a little too hard for me. There were some spectacular waterfalls a long the way so if you’re athletic it’s definitely worth checking out.

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On Friday we didn’t do much of anything, we were too exhausted from the rest of the week! I think we spent a lot of time in bed watching shows on my laptop.

Saturday was fun, we went to another boardgame meet up. This one was at the Merkatto Cafe, a meerkat themed coffee shop. Since this was a cafe and not a social club you don’t have to pay anything to play, they just asked that you buy some drinks. We saw a lot of the same people that we met at the Chubby Cat Cafe there. We played Alhambra, then Red Planet. Unfortunately my back hurt a bit so we left kind of early, but I still had a good time!

Today was also an action packed one but I managed to get a little sunburned and I’m not feeling great right now. I will have to update another time.

Transitioning from vacation to long term living

Today was the first day we used both scooters to commute to class. It went really well! My boyfriend says that we are riding smoothly and that whatever I’m doing on the bike is good, he feels stable and in control :). I just try to stay parallel to the bike at all times. It’s actually harder than you’d think, I have to anticipate turns and sometimes when he stops suddenly our helmets bump, but I’m getting better at preventing that.

During the first part of our Thai class the teacher decided not to use air conditioning. I was baking! At one point I literally thought that I had a fever. Needless to say it was hard to pay attention. I think that’s why I felt like today was the hardest one so far, and that’s also probably why I’m so tired now.

After class we took the scooters to check out this place called the Chubby Cat Cafe. It doesn’t actually have food but we might go to a boardgame meet up later tonight so we thought it was worth it to scout out the location. We were still hungry for lunch though so we decided to find a place nearby.

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About one block from the Chubby Cat Cafe is a noodle restaurant that is delicious! I wish I wrote down the name of it but I didn’t think about that until we were home. Maybe I will have the opportunity when we go back tonight. I ordered the Seafood bowl with squid, scallops, and prawns. It was also really spicy, but after that crazy spicy noodle bowl that I had in Bangkok I feel like I can handle anything.

Then we came home to do some laundry and watched one of the shows that I have on my laptop. It’s interesting to live long term in a foreign country for the first time. You start “wasting” your time on some of the things that you used to do in your down time back home. While we were in Bangkok we did multiple things per day and I never had any time to browse the internet or watch something on my computer. You can’t live like that all the time though, plus now we have chores like doing the laundry and making dinner to contend with.