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After spending the previous night watching the fights, we woke up early to experience another aspect of Thai culture… the food. Of the top things to do in Chiang Mai (according to TripAdvisor.com), other than spending some time with some elephants, is to take a cooking class. We chose one that seemed to fit our speed : A Lot of Thai. It was a family run, 10 year business which offered small classes for full & half day.

This is the converted side-garage kitchen and cooking stations. Notice the blue VW bus in the back. (Photo by Jack Zalium)

The pickup was done in an old VW bus by the chef’s husband and partner, Kwan (also the graphic designer for their site, business cards, advertisement, etc). We had eaten a small breakfast beforehand not sure what to expect. That was a big mistake. As soon as we arrived, Yui (Siripen Sriyabhaya) introduced herself, handed us our aprons, complementary take-home cookbook and then started cooking. She would demonstrate making the dish first and then we would each go to our stations and try the same. The first dish we would make would be pad thai breakfast.

Eating the pad thai that I made; DELICIOUS! (Photo by Molly)

Other dishes soon followed : tom yum goong, green/red curry, simple stir-fry chicken with cashews, spring rolls and even mango sticky rice. I could go into details about how to make it and how it tasted, but it won’t do you or the food justice. It is something that you will just have to experience on your own.

Molly tastes the green curry she made. (Photo by Jack Zalium)

Yui makes simple versions of these dishes using only the necessary amount of oil and fresh ingredients. I have had a lot of Thai food prior to my visit to Thailand (and even in Thailand itself) but none have been as good. We had originally signed up for the half day class not sure that we would want to stay for the whole day, but after making several dishes we were hooked. We immediately asked if we could stay for the whole day.

Enjoying lime slushies as we walk through the market with Yui.

After several hours of cooking and eating, we take a much needed break and shuffle into the VW to go to the market. There we see some of our ingredients up close, meet some of Yui’s merchant friends and have a quick snack. After the break, we said goodbye to the ‘half-dayers’ and returned to the kitchen to make some more dishes.

Molly, Yui, me and the VW Bus.

The main attraction in all this is Yui. She mentions quite often that she learned to cook simply because she liked to eat and making it herself was the only way to keep the cost down. She smiles and laughs frequently, with mannerisms similar to Martin Yan. Her stories are varied and personal but definitely do NOT get her mad as she can throw a wicked hook (thankfully we only experienced it in story form). The mood here is light and informative, where no one should feel self conscious or out of place.

This was one of the main attractions of Chiang Mai and of Thailand itself. We learned to cook some of our favorite dishes, were stuffed to the gills on great Thai food, heard some great stories and we even met another American couple that was also traveling the world (Two Backpacks One World). Who could ask for a better end to our time in the north and our first venture into Thailand?

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I had developed my affinity for boxing from my father. We used to watch it together, but I wouldn’t go as far as calling it my favorite sport. I have seen my share of great fights and am knowledgeable about its history. It is a love/hate relationship that can best be summed up in the words of Philip J. Fry: “Man, I thought Ultimate Robot Fighting was real, like pro wrestling, but it turns out it’s fixed, like boxing.” 

Muay Thai sponsored by Chang Beer. (Photo by Jack Zalium)

One of the main attractions of visiting Thailand is muay thai. I had initially wanted to see a night of fights in Bangkok, but the price of admission seemed a bit steep on a budget ($1000 baht for the cheap seats at Ratchadamnoen Boxing Stadium, Bangkok). Chiang Mai seemed to be the perfect location for some “authentic” muay thai, with the cost of admission at less than half of that in Bangkok. We had also been solicited at least 3 times to come to the fights at Thaphae Muay Thai Stadium and most of what I know about muay thai I learned from Tony Jaa, so this seemed like a good experience either way.

"Is this legal?? Aren't you a bit young to fight?" (Photo by Jack Zalium)

As with regular boxing, the fights rarely start at the designated time and then there are the undercard fights. The process is a bit different than traditional boxing. Once the fighters enter the ring, they don a headband (mongkhon) and armbands (pra jiads) before performing a ritualized dance called the wai khru ram muay. Each fighter takes their turn, first performing the wai kru (showing respect to others as well as a prayer to Buddha for protection) and then ram muay (simple movements demonstrating the fighter’s prowess). Muay thai music also accompanies every aspect of the event and is meant to heighten the excitement as well indicate the passage of time leading up to end of a round.

That night we had 6 other fights before the main event, however, we didn’t expect the first two fights to be between minors. I guess if you’re going to be a muay thai fighter then you better learn to take a punch. The fights seemed to be of shorter duration than the other fights, but that didn’t hold the fighters back from giving it their all. The trainers and parents in their respective corners also seemed very supportive (think little league soccer/baseball/football), so it didn’t seem all that bad to me.

I am going to f*ck you up. (Photo by Jack Zalium)

The next fight was between two ladies. The lady in red seemed to be a participant of a local muay thai gym. Her corner was full of her gym mates cheering with her every punch, kick, throw and elbow. In the blue corner was a woman who seemed to have walked in from the street and was fighting for her meal. She had a minimal corner staff and her corner was quiet. But even though she lost the match, she was far from defeated. I would hate to meet her in any alley….

Whatta bunch of jokers!! (Photo by Jack Zalium)

Right before the main fight we were treated to what can be described as amateur night for the tourists. About half a dozen less-than-physically-gifted men jump in a ring, put on blindfolds and then proceed to pummel each other in the dark for a good 6-8 minutes. Afterwards they would go around asking for donations. It was less than stellar but it achieved some laughs especially when the referee got punched several times and then proceeded to retaliate.

The main event didn't last long, but it was decisive. (Photo by Jack Zalium)

The last fight was worth waiting for with the combatants looking solemn yet determined. The punches, kicks, elbows and throws were harder and swifter than any previous ones that night. After the first round, we picked out favorite (red corner) based on his prowess in the first round. It did not last more than round two, as the blue corner came out in full force eventually landing a powerful elbow resulting in a knockout in which red did not leave the ring under his own strength. A few days later we spoke to an American-expat living in Chiang Mai who told us that the fights are usually “fixed” and mostly put on for the tourists. I guess there are a lot of similarities to the boxing I knew and grew up on, however I do not regret going because for a night I learned a little something about Thailand and the agony of defeat, thankfully not mine.

As some who have known me more than 3 months can attest to, my hair grows quite quickly. This was not much of an issue in South America knowing full well that we would return in time to get a “humanizing” trimming. On the second leg of our journey, decisions would have to be made; such as when & where to get a haircut. Molly first suggested India would be a good place and at the right time. While the timing would be right, the location would interfere with the facial hair I was sprouting and managing. The answer suddenly came to both of us: BANGKOK! We would both get haircuts and massages while in Bangkok.

We scouted the neighborhood for prices and a general look at the venues, going as far as checking out where our host gets his hair cut; at the Hair Olympic in the The Big C (think of it as the Thai Walmart). When we did the necessary walk-by, however, we noticed an older woman with flaming red top hair sitting down inside. We debated the situation: Molly speculated that she worked there while I thought she was waiting her turn in the salon chair. We both decided to keep shopping around the neighborhood. Communication problems arose at the other local establishments, so we both decided to go back to Hair Olympic for the slightly more expensive haircuts, but better communication options.

Arriving at the salon, we relayed our desires and were separated for the hair washing & head massage. Afterwards I was introduced to the stylist… the same red-haired woman we had seen on a previous day. Molly was right and lucky, since she has sworn the day before that the women with red hair (if she did work there) would not touch a hair on her head. To her credit, she spoke English well & performed admirable considering her shaking hands. I was even lucky enough to have kept both my eyes and ears intact. Half-way through the cut, I was directed back to the washing station for another wash and massage. With her assistant handing her scissors & combs, along with several washings & massages, I felt like part of a racing team… a well oiled machine. The rest of the time I spent watching Molly across from me as her stylist performed “a cutting ballet”. I wasn’t sure, but she looked a bit hesitant at the process. Overall, it was probably the longest haircut I have had and the back of my hairline hasn’t been quite this high, but overall I think she did a good job. Molly came out looking pretty good as well, but she’ll have to tell you what she thought about that.

Before & After Shearing (Photo by Molly)

Fresh from the shearing, we went back to our bed & breakfast to take the required “after” photos, before getting a taste of the Thai massage. For those that do not know me well, I do not like massages much. Up to this point, the only professional massages that I have allowed to be performed to me were all on our honeymoon in Bali. I find it hard to relax when someone is digging their elbows and hands into my flesh, causing me more pain than when I came in. After spending a month each in India & China (as well as 5+ months of travelling overall), a $5/hour massage seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d like to say that it was a painless process, however, a Thai massage does seem to involve pain and some odd stretching. By the end, you feel like a discombobulated yoga practitioner. My masseuse also seemed to get a good workout as she was unable to get me into some of the poses and was at least half my size.

All in all, our day of beauty & rest was well-earned. I’m not sure we will have the opportunity to do it again somewhere else on our trip, but I am definitively not dreading it.

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