Eating Our Way Through Northern Thailand
The Adventures of The Roving Route #18
Starting this week in Lampang finally gave us relief from the heat. Daytime temperatures were still 30+ but at least it cooled down to about 25 at night. Our bodies are so used to always sweating that it almost felt like sweater weather!
Lampang is the capital of its province and mainly supports the many agricultural communities around with farming goods. During the early 20th century, Chinese farmers and traders immigrated into the region bringing with them money and a much different architectural style. They built themselves a large trading street with multi-story wooden buildings and ornate exteriors. This street has been preserved as a historical monument in town and holds a weekend market. While not as cluttered and crazy as most of the other markets, it still had some incredible food including a very fiery papaya salad. The thing that keeps blowing our minds is how we order it with 3 peppers and then the local behind will add in 9 or 10! Those peppers are enough to get the nose running and our eyes tearing we couldn't imagine what 10 would do!
The main reason we chose to stop in this otherwise sleepy town was for a monastery that was built not far away. There is very little information in English but what we could cobble together is a few decades ago, a dedicated monk and 50 followers hand-carried dozens of partly built pagodas to the tip of a mountain. It doesn't seem like there was much of a reason other than dedication as to why they did but it is safe to say it is a gorgeous spot to choose! We convinced a local driver to pick us up presunrise and take us to hopefully watch the sunrise over the temples.
Though we arrived shortly after the true sunrise, the views were stunning as was the atmosphere. Dozens of small white or colourful temples overlook the rocky peaks and lush valleys. Each are adorned by varying sized Buddhas, gongs, bells, and prayer chimes. The early morning breeze, cheerful birds, and light twinkling of the chimes made for an incredibly peaceful experience. As the word gets out about the monastery, the experience will change but the setting will stay beautiful!
The biggest thing that has shocked us between the Philippines and Thailand is the taxi/tuk-tuk costs. When we were in the Philippines, a driver for the day would be roughly $20 CAD. Our first quotes for a driver to take us an hour out of town, wait for a few hours and then drive back was $75. We were able to get the cost down quite a bit but it just goes to show the effects of tourism and of course the standard of living. Our driver didn't speak English but it all worked out. We have our Christmas present from our family, Jennifer, and Bill, to thank for this experience!
With our remaining days in Thailand ticking down, we continued straight north to the city of Chiang Rai. As Chiang Rai is separated from the rest of Thailand by large mountain ridges the outdated and old Thai train lines haven't made it up there yet so we had to take a bus the 5-hour journey. The bus was surprisingly comfortable and the drivers were way less crazy than in the Philippines. What made the trip even more enjoyable was Peter, the older man across the aisle from us. Upon boarding, he struck up a conversation with surprisingly good English. After the typical greetings, he asked us where we were from. When we mentioned Canada, he surprised us again by listing off the Canadian provinces including Manitoba! Though he comes from a small northern Thai town, it turns out that he has had quite a life with going to boarding school in Bangkok, a university in Chiang Mai, his masters in Michigan, and a decade of work in Singapore. With nothing but time we chatted about everything under the sun. He spoke about the health benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle, his intrigue about snow and like many older people an oversharing of his health issues! As he was a dedicated Buddhist, he was also interested to learn more about Christianity. He asked several questions including the interesting question of "what does Amen mean?". While the sites you see while traveling are the ones you can capture on a camera, it's the experiences and interactions with locals that often make your trip!
As the younger sister of Chiang Mai, it is much quieter than its famous neighbour. We lucked out and had a great location within the city. Just a half-block up the road is a daily afternoon market that serves primarily locals. The vast majority of the market is either fresh veggies, fruits, meats or textiles (especially with Chinese New Year coming in a week) but a small section has cooked foods. Quickly finding our favourite stalls, we ate some of the best fried chicken of our lives! Add in massive corn on the cobs and a spicy papaya salad and we had the perfect lunch for just $4 total.
With over 40,000 temples in Thailand and 33,000 active ones, the presence of Buddhism cannot be understated. Not only does it feel that you walk past a temple every few blocks or see one wiz by out the train window, you regularly see monks dressed in orange. Whether they be young kids playing in a temple pool or an older man slowly shuffling home, every day you encounter many passing by. The monks rely on the public for many things including all the food they eat during the day. Eating only twice per day and never past 12 PM, they wake before the sunrise to walk through the city to collect offerings known as alms. One of the mornings in Chiang Rai, we woke up very early to watch this take place. Unsure of what to expect we set out towards an early morning locals market. Here we found several monks walking barefoot through the streets holding a large metal bowl. People would stop him, remove their shoes, and place anything from food, flowers, toiletries, or clothes into the bowl then bow their heads and receive a blessing. After collecting his bowl full of goods, he returns back to the monetary, places all the food into a collective bin where all the monks share what has been given. Though it was very early in the morning, we really enjoyed watching the locals interact with the monks. Unfortunately, the rest of the morning wasn't the best as Jacki got sick and was put out of commission for the next few days!
Chiang Rai is famous for its numerous coloured temples. Though there are a few temples that have long histories (including the spot where legend tells that the Emerald Buddha formed after being struck by lightning) the most popular are new. First, you have the White Temple. Just south of the city, the pearly gates of this temple hide something quite out of the ordinary in Thai Buddhism. A contemporary temple, it plays with traditional elements and modern pop culture. The walls are adorned with characters like hello kitty, Spiderman, and Darth Vader while a bridge leading you to the temple crosses a river of hands trying to drag you down!
Just north of the city is another modern temple. Though it was only completed in 2016, the Blue Temple is making quite the name for itself and you can clearly see why! Greeting you at the entrance are two 30+ foot beings twisted with all sorts of different animals! As the name states, the temple is completely blue. The stairs, exterior walls, interior walls, window frames, statues, and the roof are all shades of blue. The massive white Buddha that sits at the front of the hall offers an eerie blue colour due to the blue reflections casting off the walls. It was amazing to see the differences between all the temples in this region with spectacular settings and peaceful atmospheres. As Derek had been to the White Temple on his previous trip to Thailand and with Jacki being sick, we did not return and only checked out the Blue Temple.
We made our way to our last stop in Thailand- Chiang Mai- just in time for the major Sunday market. Stretching almost from city wall to city wall, the 1 KM market takes up all of the side streets and even the streets running parallel. This entire area was 100% packed with tourists. Other than the vendors, we don't know if there was a single local insight! Doing the typical market shuffle past hundreds of stalls selling everything from pottery, to clothes, to food, and even a glassblower, it was a cool market to wander around but nowhere close to our favourite!
We will spend our last few days in Chiang Mai before heading off to Hanoi, Vietnam. Neither of us have ever been to Vietnam so we are excited to see what it has to offer! We are currently getting a three-month visa but as always who knows with us. Until next time.
Cheers from Chiang Mai, The Roving Route