Sunday, 13 January 2013

Putting the Chang in Chiang Mai

It was a trip of many firsts for me, first time in Asia, first journey on an overnight train and first to travel first class. Since it was our honeymoon we decided to push the boat out and travel from buzzing Bangkok to the northern city of Chiang Mai in decadent style...

Ok, busted, Orient Express it was not. But, it was our very own cabin and we were being whisked into the hilly north and new exciting adventures in the walled city. If anyone is tempted to follow in our footsteps and take this service here is my advice... 

Take snacks and water - there is food on board but it's limited and it's fun to have a train picnic. Make sure you have a cardigan or similar - this was the only part of the trip where I really had to put on warmer layers, including socks. Don't trust the timetable - a prompt service it was not and we reached our destination a good few hours late. Be aware that this will not be a smooth ride, or necessarily one of your better nights sleep. And most of all - try the dining car! :) We had so much fun in the dining car! You can get a proper hot meal, the atmosphere is great and there was lots of retro music (think Mark Knopfler and Neil Diamond), which the train policeman was happily singing along to!

Sunrise from our cabin :)
After getting our weary train shaken selves to our hotel it was time to explore our new home! 

In Chiang Mai I fell in love with the relaxed pace of life, beautiful atmosphere at the temples, bells, local crafts in the markets, weekend walking street. We also discovered iced coffee - a brilliant pick me up when like mad english folk we were out in sweltering mid day heat. Two of the central Chiang Mai temples were particularly special to me - Wat Pan Tao and Wat Phra Singh. The former for its simple rustic beauty - a stunning teak structure removed from the bling of many of the glittering bangkok buildings. The latter due to its extraordinarily serene environs and its fabulously resonant gong.

By this point in the trip Mr S and I were missing some of our routine daily activities and decided it was high time we got back into the kitchen. That's right, it was Thai cookery class time :). It was so much fun and really sociable. We tried not to get too jealous talking to others in the group who were on a much longer sojourn from real life on backpacking adventures and concentrate on the task at hand. The day started with a trip to an amazing local food market to learn about and source our ingredients, then it was back to the chopping board, frying pan and pestle and mortar. I made Pad Thai (but, of course!), Massaman curry (YUM!) and Sticky rice with Mango. Whilst there were day courses in which it was possible to make more dishes, I am not sure we could have eaten any more. We went away very happy and very full!

Pad Thai Perfection
So, could our fabulous time in Chiang Mai possibly get any better you ask?

Quite simply - YES.

Whilst in Chiang Mai we had one of the absolutely top moments of our whole trip. Thanks to some very special, very big creatures...

I had been really sceptical about this before the trip, but our time with the elephants was amazing. We chose our location very carefully and visited an elephant park which worked to save and care for rescue elephants. We knew that the park in question didn't make the elephants perform or ride them with chairs fitted to their backs. The staff there clearly cared deeply about the elephants and I learned so much about them. Thank you so much Baan Chang Elephant Park for an absolutely amazing and unforgettable day. 

Ah, happy memories!

One last thing on Chiang Mai. If you are reasonably respectably dressed and have the baht, do go for a drink at The Chedi. It was honestly like walking into The Sunday Times Style magazine. Decked in candle and firelight it is a sleek modern minimal paradise. The drinks aren't bad either!

P.S. In other news - I am finally back to my jewellery classes. Not much to report yet, but many exciting ideas on the go. So many that I've got a proper brainstorm chart of them. Getting back to designing and making and can't wait to share some creations once more. Happy Sunday everyone.


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