Songkran, Wats, and Dancing Shrimp in Phayao

Songkran, Wats, and Dancing Shrimp in Phayao

The date I left India was no accident – I wanted to be back in Thailand for Songkran. Songkran is Thai New Year’s Day from April 13 -15. Traditionally people throw water to cleanse away the old and welcome the new. People also visit Buddhist temples, and their families. Throughout the country Songkran becomes an at least 3-day long water throwing festival, and it is difficult to go anywhere without getting wet. Chiang Mai is the center of the biggest Songkran celebration and I’ve enjoyed the past two years of the festival in the city where I live. This year it was time to try somewhere new – Phayao.

I arrived back from India on the night of April 11th, and the next morning was on a bus headed to Phayao. My friend and colleague Mark had reserved me a bus ticket, and in my travel weary state, I took the journey to Phayao to meet him and his girlfriend there. When I arrived, it was already a raging water party.

Taking photos is a tricky thing to do during Songkran because everything gets wet. Bangkok Airways even handed out plastic protection purses to keep valuables from getting soaked. All of these Songkran photos and video were taken through that very plastic purse, please forgive blurriness.

Armed and ready for Songkran in Phayao

Bucket in hand and ready for Songkran

Riding in the back of a truck/swimming pool

Riding in the back of a truck/swimming pool

In front of the lake in Phayao

In front of the lake in Phayao

 

Splashing water everywhere

Splashing water everywhere

Armed for fun

Armed for fun

Mark showing the colored chalk paste that is also put on people's faces. This doesn't happen in Chiang Mai.  Apparently the chalk has roots from the monks blessings. I thought it was from Holi festival in India.

Mark showing the colored chalk paste that is also put on people’s faces. This doesn’t happen in Chiang Mai, so I was kind of surprised. Apparently the chalk has roots from the monks blessings. I thought it was from Holi festival in India.

I took this video as an attempt to show the huge amounts of water. While walking through the crowd, I couldn’t see what I was filming. Water was continually being thrown at me and paste was being put on my face…

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After all the splashing, we enjoyed snacks by the lake at sunset

Mark came back to the table and said to the group of us, “I ordered something that I love, but Elizabeth will hate.” It was dancing shrimp. I’d heard of these before, but never seen or eaten them. They are small shrimp that are still alive, but are then ‘cooked’ in the spicy sauce put on them. Here’s what they looked like:

Pretty afraid to try dancing shrimp

Pretty afraid to try dancing shrimp…

I surprised everyone, including myself, when I tried one. I couldn’t handle eating it while it was still moving, so I waited until they stopped. It was actually really tasty. I had a few more with some sticky rice.

...but I tried them anyway

…but I tried them anyway. They were much better than my pre-tasting face shows

We decided to go when it started getting a little buggy

We decided to go when it started getting a little buggy

At Cupcake coffee shop

Next morning at Cupcake Coffee shop – a dog shaped cake? Why not!

I got my camera back to the guesthouse before all the splashing took place

I got my camera back to the guesthouse before all the splashing took place and left it there for the day. Thankfully Mark had his camera and gave me some of the following shots of the day.

More funny food - Period

More funny food – Period

These were some of the first Songkran revelers we met

These were some of the first Songkran revelers we met that day

...the nicest biker gang you'll ever meet - Grandiose

…the nicest biker gang you’ll ever meet – Grandiose

I wanted to join them

I wanted to join them

After spending the day getting soaked, I retreated to the rooftop patio.

After spending the day getting soaked, I retreated to the rooftop patio.

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Songkran is fun, but after 2 days of constantly being soaked, we took a trip to some temples

Songkran is fun, but after 2 days of constantly being soaked, on the third day we took a trip to some temples to make merit

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I rode on the back of Mark's motorbike and we still got splashed a lot, but the trip was worth it to end up at Wat Analayo

I rode on the back of Mark’s motorbike and we got splashed a lot, but the trip was worth it to end up at Wat Analayo – what a stunning wat in the forest on a hill

Putting coins on the year of one's birth animal

Putting coins on the year of one’s birth animal

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Scaffolding Buddha

Scaffolding Buddha with protective nagas

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That was one huge Buddha

A huge Buddha

A hazy view from atop Wat Analayo out toward the lake in Phayao

A hazy view from atop Wat Analayo out toward the lake in Phayao

Nagas were a theme of the day...

Nagas were a theme of the day…

 

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…then we saw a snake in a tree.

We ended the day at a waterfall.

Boombin looking lovely at the waterfall

Phayao, I will be back. Thanks for your wonderful wats and Songkran splashes. So happy to be back in Thailand!

 

 

 

 

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108 Images – A Year in Pictures

108 Images – A Year in Pictures

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, here are 108,000 words.

ส้มตำ อร่อย มากๆ – Som Dtam yum yum yum

ส้มตำ อร่อย มากๆ – Som Dtam yum yum yum

ส้มตำ som dtam, som tum, or som tam, means papaya salad however it’s written. It is a quintessential Thai salad that combines savory, sweet, sour, and spicy flavors in one dish. Although its origins are from Northeastern (Isaan) Thailand, it is widely available throughout the whole of Thailand. It is easy to find little food stands with someone pound pound pounding the ingredients of som dtam in a large wooden mortar and pestle surrounded by people awaiting their delicious meal and ordering their salad to taste.

My local som tam stand

Though som tam means ‘pounded sour’ it’s actually a combination of several flavors. The ingredients vary a bit but generally they are: Thai chillies, garlic, unripe green papaya, long beans, carrots, tamarind juice, lime juice, fish sauce, small dried shrimp palm sugar, tomatoes, and peanuts. It is often served with ข้าวเหนียว khao niow– sticky rice, which is great for sopping up all the spicy/sour juice left in the bowl.

Som dtam preparation

Yesterday, I ordered it to my taste entirely in Thai (spicy, with no shrimp or crab) from a local spot and got the spiciest som dtam I’ve ever eaten! In the more touristy areas, even if a Westerner asks for spicy dishes, they usually aren’t spicy by Thai standards. I guess if you speak some Thai, and order it in a Thai neighborhood, it gets significantly spicier.

As with all food stands in Thailand, take away food is put in a plastic bag and wrapped up with a rubber band.

Although I think som dtam is just about perfect (and apparently it was ranked by CNN as one of the 50 most delicious foods), it doesn’t seem like something children would like. Much to my surprise, my Thai students absolutely love som dtam, the other Asian students also enjoy it, whereas the Western students seem to like it to varying degrees in relation to how long they’ve lived in Thailand. It quickly became my sister’s favorite Thai food when she visited.

Sometimes it is served with large shrimp and crabs in the shell.

Does it sound good? Here’s a recipe: http://www.goodearthpeanuts.com/recipes/SomDtam.htm Truth be told, the only time I’ve ever made it was in a Thai cooking class. It’s just easier, cheaper, and more delicious to buy at the food stands. It usually costs right around 30 baht (just less than $1 USD).

I think I know what I’ll have for dinner tonight. ส้มตำ อร่อย มากๆ

Kanom – Thai Snacks

Kanom – Thai Snacks

Thai food is undoubtedly delicious. I could honestly write several books on the topic of food in Thailand, but I think that has already been done. I will focus here on a quintessential part of Thai food culture – kanom – snacks.

Thai people do not eat like most Westerners. First, all food is shared. Also, rather than 3 big meals, there are smaller breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, but lots of snacking goes on all the time. Most of the kanom are fairly healthy. Though there are the fried varieties, the portions are small. It is nearly impossible to go out with a Thai person and not be asked, “You want su-nack?” then promptly offered one. When I learned the word kanom, I realized how often snacks are talked about, suggested, given, and eaten.

Here is a little photographic sampling of the mouth watering morsels I eat on a daily basis:

Let’s start with fruit (ponlamai) in its tropical abundance…

bananas (gluay), yellow mangoes (mamuang), dragonfruit, papaya (malako)

green mangoes (makmuang) and passion fruit (saurot)

papaya (malako)

Then there are the fruits that look like they come from another planet:

Rambutans

and the stinky cheese mixed with and garbage scented durian, which I actually think are good in small doses.

On to some of my favorites. I need to learn what these are called. If anyone reading this knows what any of the following snacks are called, will you please enlighten me? I’d love to know 🙂

These cute cooked coconut milk things called…? Side one…

…and side two.

leaf wrapped sticky rice delights called…?

More sticky rice thingies called….?

And a few I actually do know the name of:

Meankam…

Wrapped in a betel leaf, which is eaten, this is what goes inside meankam – dried coconut, lime, ginger, chilis, peanuts, onions, and dried shrimp. I have mine without the last two ingredients.

Due to the muslim influence of Southern Thailand – Roti (often spelled rotee):

Roti are a thin pancake that can be filled with either sweet or savory ingredients, or sometimes both. This was banana and egg topped with sweetened condensed milk. So good, better than it sounds.

This guy loved flipping and flattening the roti dough.

Then something not particularly Thai, but a scrumptious snack we get at school that may look more familiar to some of you:

a mini homemade fruit tart. Can you imagine this being a school snack in the US?

I should mention that students and staff are served an amazing homemade snack once in the morning, and once in the afternoon everyday at Panyaden School, where I teach.

Here are other kanom that I don’t see everywhere:

fried tofu served in a leaf bowl…

…with all the fixings.

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” in a wok naturally.

the cooked coconut milk things I love, and fried quail eggs, that I didn’t love that much

This is what it looks like when you snack with Thai people…

Kanom outside a wat…

…or at someone’s house – in this case, my yard. Small bits of grilled meat (not for me). I love som tom (spicy green papaya salad) with khao niow (sticky rice). Oh, and all the different kinds of spicy sauces and leaves to eat. Aroy! (Delicious!)

To wash it down…

Fruit shakes – always refreshing.

This is a minuscule sampling of snacks available in Thailand. More kanom to come soon…

Panic and Prayer

Panic and Prayer

As usual, when I stay in Chiang Mai Old City, I have breakfast at Angel’s Secrets cafe. It has reasonably priced, delicious, homemade, mostly vegetarian, sometimes organic food with a stunning presentation, lovely ambience, and excellent service. This morning I was there accompanied by my friend Dan who was visiting from Korea, and his friend Chi.

This is what you get when you order an Americano at Angel’s Secrets. Beautifully presented Americano, milk in cute elephant creamer, green tea, and two little cookies. As a bonus, there is refreshing watermelon served as a palate cleanser with every meal.

‘Lovely Bowl’ at Angel’s Secrets

Chi and I shared French toast and ‘Lovely Bowl’ at Angel’s Secrets

Dan’s breakfast at Angel’s Secrets

When we left we spoke with khun Jo, the dear owner. She did not want to take a tip from us, and said it was her pleasure having us enjoying the food and atmosphere of her restaurant. The amazing food, service, and pleasant atmosphere of the little garden setting in the center of Chiang Mai Old City always make it a delight to dine there.

Upon leaving Chi, Dan, and I were making plans for the rest of the day. We all parted in different directions. I decided to head to Talad Warrorot (Warrorot Market) to buy some fabric and have some skirts made.

At the beginning of my walk there, I ran into my friend Aey – an appearance genius who always seems to turn up on his motorbike and ask, “Where you go?” each time I visit Chiang Mai, and then promptly offers me a lift. In the heat of the day, I gladly hopped on back of his motorbike and we sped through traffic toward Talad Warrorot.

I spent some time perusing the local goods the market had to offer: fabrics, gold jewelry, clothes, cosmetics, and as everywhere in Thailand – food.

Inside Talad Warrorot – looking down at part of the food section

I bought some woven and printed Thai fabric for getting made into skirts and decorating.

Thai style matmi, or ikat woven fabric for a skirt

Thai style batik fabric for my couch

Close up of oven fabric for…not sure yet, but it’s pretty.

I met with one of the many seamstresses on the second floor to have some skirts made. “Ao grapong kha” (hoping I said, I’d like a skirt please). She understood! I did drawings, thrilled to find that A-line, or some derivation of that, is also how you say it in Thai.  Gesturing, speaking rudimentary Thai, and basic English I tried to convey that I want an A-line not just a wrap around sarong because, gaayo lek – I have a small waist like Thai people, tapok yai – but big hips, not like Thai people. She confirmed this with her head nod, hand gestures, and the numbers reflecting my measurements. We and shared smiles and laughs – non-verbal communication speaks volumes. Pointing to the calendar is when I found they’d be ready, next Saturday. For 3 custom made skirts, the grand total was 600 baht (about $19.25 USD).

Upon putting my dictionary and Thai language notebook back in my backpack, I suddenly realized I was missing my laptop. Oh shit! Panic, panic, panic. Breathe breathe breathe. Where is it? Was it stolen? No, I don’t think so. I left it a Angel’s Secrets across town. They close at 4. It’s almost 3 and I left there nearly 3 hours ago. Shit!

I rushed through the crowds of Talad Warrorot, got outside and flagged down a tuk tuk. We agreed on the 50 baht price after a bit of haggling. Not a good price, but I didn’t really care, I just wanted to get there quickly, no time to bargain.

In the tuk tuk I started to pray, “Please God let it be there. Jo knows me, she is a lovely person, her customers love her, she will have it.”

Thinking of Buddhist non-attachment to try to calm myself just in case it’s not there, but ugh! I use my laptop daily for work in my Buddhist school, not to mention to stay in touch with people near and far, listening to music and news, reading, and writing. In this case it seemed more appropriate to return to my Catholic roots. I decided to pray to Saint Anthony – the patron saint of lost articles.

About 15 minutes later we arrive. I run into Angel’s Secrets, and Jo sees my panic and calmly asks, “Elizabeth, your laptop?”

I hadn’t realized I was actually shaking a little.

Khap khun maak kha khun Jo!” I cannot thank her enough.

“It wasn’t me, my regular customer give it to me,” Jo humbly replies.

“Please thank him or her so much. Whew!”

Handing my laptop to me, “I am your hero today, na” Jo smiles.

“Jo, yes, you are my hero many days, but especially today,” I say smiling back.

“Don’t worry if you leave things here, I will keep for you and give back.”

“Thank you so much Jo. I believe you!”

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the way things go in Thailand. I am one lucky lucky lady. Thanks Jo, her honest customer, God, Buddha, and St. Anthony. I, again, am extremely grateful.

Beginning to relax, I order a mango lassi and immediately write what has just transpired on my miraculously recovered laptop. Just now I’m noticing the coincidence that this cafe is called Angel’s Secrets.

Mango Lassi at Angel’s Secrets

Khun Jo playing from Nirvana to the Beatles ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ at Angel’s Secrets

Thanks khun Jo! Khap khun maak kha!

Local Market Heaven

Local Market Heaven

One of the many favorite things I have about Thailand is shopping for food at the local markets. Thailand is brimming with all sorts of markets selling everything from engine parts, to herbal medicine, to clothing, to Buddha amulets, to food.

Today I will focus on food.

My local market is between Canal and Hang Dong Road, but honestly, I don’t know its name. It is on my way home from work and is most active on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Upon entering there is usually a little Je or vegetarian stall where I almost always make a purchase of salai – seaweed, khao niaow mamuang – mango with sticky rice, sometimes a salad, sometimes the mushrooms that look like and have the texture of meat, sometimes a spicy dish with fried tofu, it’s different and tasty every time.

Even though I’ve lived here for a while now, I still have a bit of reverse sticker shock with how cheap food is. At the moment it is 31 baht = $1 USD. Here are several examples, but by no means all, of the food available at the market on any given day.

Leaf wrapped sticky rice with a variety of fillings.

Sticky rice and banana, or sticky rice and yam wrapped in leaves. 5 baht each.

Grilled fish stuffed with lemongrass. I haven't bought this yet because it's too big for one person. I have bought it closer to my house and it's delicious. Price range: 100 - 150 baht (with all the fixings) depending on the size of the fish, but big enough to feed two people usually.

Tomatoes, onions, and cute little green eggplant. 5 baht a bag of about 10 each.

piles of manao - limes. 4 for 10 baht.

Spicy Thai chilis - phrik. A plate full for 10 baht.

Insect larvae. I don't know how much they cost. I haven't tried them yet.

Green mangoes mamuang and passion fruit saurot. These are by the kilo, but nonetheless, they just don't cost very much and they are scrumptious.

A small portion of the gargantuan variety of greens available. 5 baht a bunch.

More fish, but I don't buy these...

...I have bought these. Live little fish for my pond. 5 baht each.

There are also turtles available. I'm not sure what kind they are or how to care for them.

It's also a good place to buy food for the fish in my pond.

...or one of these brooms, which are ubiquitous in Thailand. 20 baht.

Just in case you need one there is 'Just's bra' and underwear. Not sure where you could try these on. I bought a pair of underwear for 35 baht. Unsurprisingly, they are a little small. Don't even get me started on bras. I digress, time to return to food...

The mushroom hed lady. The aroy Thai mushrooms called eringi are 20 baht a bag.

Jackfruit, bananas, long beans, basil, and other unidentifiable edible items for sale.

Banana flowers, broad beans, mushrooms, and more!

Here's a new one - spices. I bought 2 bags for 20 baht total.

There is so much more available: prepared food that looks and smells delicious, but is almost never vegetarian. I’ve bought perfect vegetarian fried spring rolls for 5 baht each. The meat skewers always smell wonderful, but worry me when I see the flies attracted to them. The curries almost always have pork, chicken, or my least favorite – the coagulated blood chunks. I ask if things are vegetarian and I even try a lot of food that isn’t, but certain things I still can’t eat. I ate the coagulated blood in a chicken curry once at a friend’s house and almost gagged. I thought it was a mushroom. It took all my composure to swallow and not spit it out. My friend loves it.

Although I can’t deal with meat, I do consistently expand my food assemblage by trying new fruits and vegetables each time I go to the market. That in itself should keep me occupied for quite some time.

Today I tried long purple beans and cut them up for a Thai curry. Yummy!

The nice things about this particular open market are: it’s never too crowded, though there are always a bunch of people, and I am usually one of 2, at the most, foreigners. The variety of pungent scents that accompany so many Asian markets, is kept to a minimum. People are friendly. Thai people at this market are starting to recognize me and that feels very welcoming. Prices are ridiculously cheap!

My usual cost of dinner, cooked and ready to go in a plastic 😦 bag always sealed impossibly quickly and tightly wrapped with a rubber band: 20 – 40 baht. If I cook dinner myself with local ingredients the cost is similar. If I go to the grocery store to buy foreign food, the price escalates significantly. As the weather gets hotter, and the novelty of having a kitchen is wearing off, I find myself eating street or market food on a more regular basis. The way I see it, what’s wrong with that? It’s Thailand, the food can be healthy, and undoubtedly is always delicious. Aroy maak! อร่อยมาก!

Thailand, I Love Your Beauty

Thailand, I Love Your Beauty

This title sounds like a bad pick up line, but it’s true – I unabashedly love Thailand. Where else in the world can you stay in a nice clean room with a bathtub in the center of the city, but on a quiet street for $8, have a lovely vegetarian Thai dinner in a restaurant for $1.85, then get an hour long massage for $4.80? It’s ridiculously good here in Chiang Mai.

Sometimes it’s the little artful ways things are presented. The beautiful textiles to tropical plants hanging, and tiny fish swimming in a bowl. Here are a few pictures to give you an idea:

Beautiful Thai silk

Flower arrangement in a bowl

This is a store in Chiang Mai

Then, there is simple and artful food presentation. The dishes pictured here cost between $0.60 – $1.25.

Fried tofu with corriander and spices in a completely biodegradable leaf bowl.

Vegetarian green curry with rice

Spring rolls being made

There are always the little elegant touches all around the city of Chiang Mai:

Elephant door knocker

Flower market

Golden wat and mountain view from a guesthouse in Chiang Mai old city

What makes Thailand such a special place is the people. Thai people are some of the warmest, gentlest people on the planet. Trying to speak a little Thai goes a long way. I am still a complete beginner, but I try to speak a little bit each day.

The little girl who was intrigued with me while I was eating breakfast.

The funny and friendly Jara, and Kapoon his dog, from Kavil Guesthouse. This is Kapoon doing the wai guesture (putting hands, or in this case paws, together in a prayer position when saying hello and thank you) Sawadee Khaa! Khap khun khaa! (Kapoon is a girl dog).

Then there is Yaya. She and I have had loads of fun together. She invited me to participate in this Buddhist celebration at Wat Sumpow and the lunch afterward.

Thailand is one of those places that surprises me everyday with just how warm and beautiful it is.

Suay maak!