Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Wat Amazing Sandwiches!

I'm not entirely sure how we could possibly be hungry after our day at cooking school - but come lunchtime our stomachs were grumbling so we headed towards the Old Town.  En route we stopped off at Amazing Sandwiches - and I can assure you they did deliver.  One club sandwich and one pastrami on rye and all was right with the world. 

Having said that, the lack of bread we've had of late meant that the sandwiches pretty much sent us into a food-coma!

To walk off our sandwiches, we followed the Lonely Planet Old City Temple Tour - taking in Wat Phra, which is actually at the start of the Sunday Walking Market.  Wat Phra is Chiang Mai's most famous temple, housing the city's most revered Buddha image, Phra Singh (lion Buddha).  The location was gorgeous so we walked around for a while, enjoying ourselves and trying not to kill mozzies on sacred ground.

We headed on to Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phan Tao before backtracking to Wat Chiang Man - the oldest Wat in the city.

Sadly we'd left it a bit late in the day so the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre and the Chiang Mai Women's Prison Massage Centre had since closed.  Note to self - check opening times!

Next was The Writers Club to wet our throats and discuss our evening plans.  We decided to head towards the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar just past Thapae Gate.  After the lovely markets we've seen to be honest we weren't blown away and the food didn't look all that appealing, so we headed onwards to Anusan Market.  If you're ever in the area go to the Lena Restaurant - it was a meal worthy of royalty.  Chilli garlic and lime squid, chilli burn prawns, morning glory, rice and a beer each cost £20 all in.  Not our cheapest meal - but worth every penny!

On the way back we popped by Interbar and our favourite Thai rock band were playing, so we had to stay.  Made friends with an Austrian called Sonia and spent the evening rocking out.  What a way to spend our last evening in Chiang Mai, although I know we're going to regret this in the morning.

Bring on Vietnam!

Monday, December 09, 2013

A Lot of Thai (or how to burn garlic)

We'd booked into a cookery school to learn the art of Thai cooking with a lovely lady called Yui.  Her course is called A Lot of Thai and I was tremendously excited about this.

We were met at McDonalds at Thapae Gate and I can assure you we didn't eat there.  Instead we had a small breakfast of bananas in preparation for a BIG DAY of eating.  I wore my elastic trousers in anticipation.

Yui is pretty well known in the area and used to run a restaurant with a friend before setting up her cookery school.  She's even been visited by Gordon Ramsay!  Today's menu plan was Pad Thai, green/red Thai curry, Tom Yum soup, spring rolls, chicken and cashew curry and mango with sticky rice.  Mmm.

Thai food is great - the cooking itself is actually really quick, it's just the prep work that takes a little while to do.  But I assure you it's worth every minute.

Yui was brilliant - really funny and really chatty with little anecdotes to share and lots of top cookery tips.  I knew that prawns cooked very quickly, but apparently the easiest way to tell if they're overcooked is when they bend into an O shape, what you're looking for is a C shape and it takes only 5 seconds for them to go from raw to cooked.  When cutting a chilli, if the seeds are white they won't be that hot, brown seeds mean a hotter chilli, it's also the inside membrane of the chilli which is the hottest part.

Don't say you don't learn anything here.

I'd say that I made the best Pad Thai (burnt garlic aside - if its black, it's done) and Mark made the best Tom Yum soup, I made the best chicken and cashew curry and Mark excelled at spring rolls.  The rest of the time it was fairly even.

Part of our visit consisted of going to a local market and Yui showed us all the local delicacies.  A lot of Thai people in the region don't have fridges, but instead to go market to purchase their daily meal.  One particular vegetable had us all in chuckles as the Thai name for the vegetable sounded like a certain English swear word which I won't mention as my mum and mother-in-law read this blog.  Ask Mark next time you see him. :)

It was an amazing day of amazing food and our host was incredible.  It was well worth every penny and I plan to chuck out everything in my store cupboard and live on Pad Thai till the end of days.

It goes without saying we didn't have any dinner that night.  In fact, I might not eat for a week.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Sunday Walking Market

Top of my list of things I wanted to do in Chiang Mai was the Sunday Walking Market.  So after an easy morning we headed into town in search of a serious shopping experience.

The Sunday Walking Market kicks off at 4.30pm and goes on till midnight - we arrived fairly early and come 7pm it was absolutely heaving.  It's a huge, huge, huge road that seems to go on forever mashed full of stalls selling jewellery, clothing, arts and crafts, food, drink, to be honest it was pretty much a case if you can think of it, they probably sell it.  I didn't spot any Chinese Throwing Stars - but if I asked, I'm sure some could have been tracked down.
I wanted to flex my hippy travel credentials to the max, so I invested in some teal peacock feather patterned fisherman's trousers and we also bartered down a beautiful hand-stitched tablecloth covered with a landscape of animals frolicking around a river.  We did have some food there, but it wasn't really anything to write home about so I won't bother.  Instead we found THE BEST ROCK BAR IN THE WORLD.  Yes, that's right - if you like your heavy metal with a Thai accent come to the InterBar near Thapae Gate.  Their band covered Metallica, Aerosmith, Guns and Roses and The Offspring to name but a few.  We were only walking past originally, but had to go in and order a few beers and hear them out.

Several beers and many regrets later I dragged Mark away to a tuktuk to whisk him back to the hotel.  Cooking school tomorrow - cleavers and hangovers don't mix!

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Water for Elephants

After the craziness of Bangkok what we needed was a dash of Chiang Mai.  Chiang Mai is Thailand's "second city".  Traffic wise it's just as insane as Bangkok so if you're going here planning on filling your lungs with fresh, clean mountain air - best of luck to you.

We're staying at a wonderful hotel about half an hour walk from the main city, which is fine with me - I can walk off all those spring rolls. Speaking of food, first plan on the agenda was find dinner, we'd read about a fantastic night market just north of the Old City.  Blisters firmly plastered we headed off on foot down Th Huay Kaew to Th Mani Nopharat/Th Chang Pheuak.  Oh my days!  What a sight for sore, hungry eyes - every conceivable Thai food known to mankind was laid out, glistening, before our eyes.  We shared several plates from different vendors, trying crispy duck with rice and pickled kale, pad Thai and pork with rice.  Appetites sated and bellies full we started the long walk home, stopping at a random shopping mall meets night market en route to meet Superman in a phone box and buy me a bubble tea.

Next up on the itinerary was the Elephant Nature Park which I was very excited about.  Part of the reason for choosing this particular park was because we'd found out it was very ethical and that they treated their elephants well.  Thailand has a long history of animal cruelty and abuse, this is now changing, but there's still some way to go.
En route we watched an information video to get a feel for the issue of elephant brutality in Thailand, why it's such a problem, and what you can do personally to combat this.  Through the video we met a lady called Lek, who set up the sanctuary in the 1990's.  They also take in stray cats and dogs which wander the park.  The sanctuary depends on a team of volunteers to keep running - something that Mark and would like to consider in the future if we're in this part of the world again.
 We arrived at the park and after a briefing we then fed the elephants!  There are 36 elephants in all, a mixture of ages, the majority are rescued although some were born at the park.  Yes!  Elephant babies!  Very, very cute although the mahouts tell you to keep away as firstly, baby elephants don't know their own strength, and secondly, the older elephants are often quite protective.
We were taken on a tour of the park - we saw where they treat sick or injured elephants, we were shown the best way to approach an elephant (their eyesight isn't great, so always stay to the left or right of the trunk, never approach from the rear) and met lots of different herds, getting up close and personal with some of them.  Afterwards was a lovely vegetarian lunch, then it was time to bathe the elephants.  We were led to a river nearby where we were all given buckets and encouraged to throw water over their backs, avoiding the eyes.
It was truly an illuminating experience and some of the stories we heard were very sad.  There was one particular elephant whose baby died when hit by a truck.  Ever since then, every time she hears a truck, she charges at it.  Just how much this park has transformed the lives of these elephants is tremendous.  One moment that sticks in my head, we met Lek, the lady who set up the park.  She was standing in the enclosure and one of the younger elephants ran up to her just to give her a cuddle.  I've never seen anything like that.  Incredible.
We headed back to Chiang Mai, clutching a souvenir wooden elephant hand carved by a mahmout, babbling about what an incredible day we'd had.  We then headed to Th Nimmanhaemin in search of dinner, got sidetracked by an amazing craft market, then headed onwards to Hong Tauw Inn in search of authentic North Thai cuisine.  Naem Thod (deep fried fermented pork), Kaeng Thiao Waan Kai (green curry with chicken), Narm Phrigh Kapi Pla Too Thod (northern style curry with fried thai mackeral - very spicy!) and Kaeng Long Lay (actually I might have written that one down wrong - no snickering at the back.  This was a pork curry with herbs).  Say all those twice very fast.  It was lovely and if you're ever in the area - do go.  Their iced coffee is fab too.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Happy Birthday King!

After a couple of crazy days adjusting to Bangkok we decided to have a day off.  However, in traditional O'Neill-Williams style what starts as a gentle easy day can all too easily descend on a roller-coaster ride into the unknown!

We headed out once it cooled down in the afternoon and caught the Skytrain to Saphan Taksin and then a boat up the shore to Tha Tien.  Immediately Mark's eyes were drawn to a golden throne of mango, so we bought a plate with sticky rice and coconut milk and feasted like kings.  Easily the most delicious mango we've ever eaten.

We were right next to Wat Pho so we decided to head inside.  Wat Pho is one of Bangkok's biggest temples and home to the reclining Buddha which is 46m long and 15m high and is *just about* housed by the building. I can only assume they built it around the Buddha!  This statue illustrates the passing of the Buddha into nirvana.
We continued to walk around - and witnessed a wonderful sunset from the Wat, so have some glorious photos ready for our marathon slideshow session when we return.
The Grand Palace had closed and we planned to head towards Sao Ching Cha in search of dinnner - for reasons beyond me we decided to take the scenic route around the Grand Palace.  Best.  Decision.  Ever.  As we rounded the corner we were met by a sea of yellow t-shirts - turns out that the Kings Birthday, which had been majorly played down, probably because of the protests, was actually going ahead!  We'd arrived in time to see a constant stream of pink taxis departing the palace to mark his birthday, then followed by the King in his official car with all his military.  Obviously we gave him a little wave and wished him Happy Birthday.

We headed on to Sao Ching Cha, albeit slowly, before coming to the conclusion that everyone in the city was headed in the same direction.  Turns out the area we were aiming for is based around City Hall near the Red Swing, so when we arrived, once again it was nothing but a sea of yellow.  People were holding candles aloft and singing Happy Birthday to their King.  It was really beautiful to watch.
Unfortunately it did mean that most of the food stalls had closed down so we didn't get to do the culinary tour we'd had in mind.  HOWEVER, we did manage to score the most incredible Pad Thai from a street vendor.  I can still taste it now if I close my eyes.  Ooosh.

Slightly sated we went in search for other things edible and happened upon a stall selling deep fried tofu and taro balls with sticky sweet chilli sauce and sesame seeds.  Yes please.
 And here ends our Bangkok adventures.  Bring on Chiang Mai.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Four Nights in Bangkok

On Monday we set out on our epic adventure, a three-month backpacking trip to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Australia.  Our first port of call was Bangkok and we have a very rough travel itinerary which will take us as far as Ho Chi Minh City, after that we're winging it. My favourite way to travel. :)

So -  Bangkok - what to say?  It's an incredible city and nothing at all like what I expected.  It's a huge contrast of the old and the new - huge skyscrapers appearing in the distance next to tiny little dilapidated buildings.  It’s in constant state of development and the Bangkok in a few years time will be completely different.  Bangkok smells of street food and petrol.  It is crazy and busy, you weave your way along the sidewalks single-file, past the other pedestrians and the street carts.   
We arrived in Bangkok on Monday and made our way to our hotel via an airport taxi which cost the bargain price of 300 baht (about £6).  The hotel we booked had just been renovated so instead of being Fred Flintstone Trailer Park it was a sea of minimalist white.  The hotel is really nice and everyone seems really friendly and helpful, however none of it feels real just yet.  I think that when I flew into Bangkok I had certain expectations based on previous travel - I'd prepared myself for the culture shock, and it's not really happened yet.  Instead we've both pretty much settled down and got stuck in.  Perhaps it comes later when we're in less modern cities.  The part of Bangkok we're staying in has a McDonalds, a Subway, and a Boots, I've even spotted a Tesco!

On Monday night we really wanted some Thai food, so I consulted our trusty Lonely Planet and found a place called Thonglee, a few Soi's down from where we were staying in Sukhumvit.  After such a long journey it was very much a case of eyes being bigger than our stomach as we ordered an obscene amount of food (and polished off the lot).  We had moo pat gu-bi (pork fried with shrimp paste), mee grorp (sweet and spicy crispy fried noodles), red thai curry, rice and tom yum soup with shrimp.  Lonely Planet says that Thonglee is one of the few remaining “mom and pop” places remaining in our hotel area, which I find really sad.  I guess a lot of their business is going to the fast food restaurants on the main strip, but I find that quite odd as Thai food is very quick to cook so it makes no sense.  I do hope the place stays in business and do go if you’re ever in Bangkok – it was an amazing introduction to proper Thai food.

Excuse the lack of correct inflections on the written Thai – I’m still working out this keyboard.

On Tuesday we decided to go out exploring – unfortunately we couldn’t go to the Wat Phra Kaew or Wat Pho as it would mean going through the protest zones.  So instead we headed towards China Town.

On our way we stopped off in one of Bangkok’s brand new shopping malls – Terminal 21, located just a few Soi’s away from our hotel.  This mall is insanely massive with each floor dedicated to a different international city.  We had a giggle walking through London – with Carnaby Street, a Routemaster and Tube Station all present and correct.  Not wanting to indulge in too much tacky Western style consumerism, we fortified ourselves with a Pad Thai before jumping on the Metro and setting off in search of the real Bangkok.

A few hours, and wrong turns, later we arrived in China Town where we spent a few happy hours getting lost in the maze of narrow alleys, side stepping speeding motorbikes and market stalls.  China Town was a real assault of the senses – food sizzling on every corner, the heady scent of chillies combined with motorbike exhaust, confused-looking tourists with street vendors ready to descend.  At all times you’re checking over your shoulder looking for motorbikes which may be about to take on the nerve-wracking journey of potential doom down a minuscule alley.
After hours or wandering we sat down at Tha Ratchawong for a cocktail and some water and I examined my ruined feet.  I wish I’d broken in my Birkenstocks a bit more before we left the UK.  Taking pity on me, Mark suggested a riverboat trip south so we could catch the Metro back to the hotel and rest up for a bit.

Food is constantly on my mind and I’d read about a place called Bharani which I really wanted to check out.  Navigating the mean streets of Bangkok is fairly tricky and we walked up the same street about five times before we finally found it.  It was worth every single new blister. Bharani is a cheap and cheerful cosy Thai restaurant that specialises in ‘boat noodles’ – we ordered these in a beautiful spicy soup along with Thai red curry and rice.  Afterwards we decided to try salak – which is a local fruit, also known as snake fruit (the outside skin of the fruit is scaly, like a snake).  It was served up on a bed of chilled iced water and tasted a bit like papaya, sweet, but also slightly salty.  The texture was interesting, really chewy and each bite released a different flavour.  I later found out from Mark that eating too much can make you constipated.  Nice.

On the way up to the restaurant we walked through Sukhumvit Market – a crazy local market that seems to be aimed entirely at tourists.  They sold everything under the sun – from knock-off Little Kitty bags to Chinese throwing stars, from Viagra to tasers, friendship bracelets, sarongs and shawls and the odd pair of knuckledusters.  Truly an eccentric collection and I assure you that we didn’t buy anything that UK Customs wouldn’t look kindly on.

We also walked down the Soi Cowboy, a street full of clubs and pubs full of scantily clad ladies touting for business.  Mark held my hand all the way down the street – I’m not entirely sure why. :)

Wednesday was a crazy busy day – we booked ourselves onto a tour to go to the Damnoen Saduak floating market, the Allied War Cemetery, the Bridge over the River Kwai and last, but certainly not least, a trip to a Muay Thai boxing evening.

The taxi picked us up at 8am and drove us to Damnoen Saduak floating market, about 45 minutes drive from the city.  The tickets for the floating market set us back 5000 baht – we were totally ripped off and we should have queried this.  Part of the reason was because we weren’t part of a tour group – so it meant a whole boat to ourselves.  You live and learn.  Nonetheless, it was a lot of fun, although the market was very much tailored to tourists and full of utter tat.  We bought some mango and sticky rice for breakfast, and once sustained, defences up, settled in for a long session of, “mai, korp kun”.
The boat ride was wonderful and a lot of fun, sadly we annoyed our driver as once the market had been navigated he returned us to the main dock.  However, he’d forgotten to take us to the temple and we hadn’t realised that it was part of the journey, so he was swiftly recalled by staff, face like a slapped dog, and refused to speak to us for the final leg.  Oh well.

Afterwards we headed to the Allied War Cemetery which is maintained by the War Graves Commission.  The soldiers buried here were all POW’s in WWII and of the 6,982 graves here, nearly half are British.  These soldiers were set to work building the Bridge over the River Kwai and their deaths were a result of brutal working conditions and Japanese cruelty whilst in captivity.  The Cemetery took my breath away.  It was so beautifully maintained and reading the nameplates of all those who lost their lives and the notes from their families was really moving.

We then headed to the Bridge over the River Kwai – which Mark said was much smaller than he’d imagined!  The bridge is 300m across the river and only the curved outer spans are part of the original bridge as it was severely damaged in the Allied attacks in 1945.  We decided not to get the train across as it was apparently a four-hour journey and we only had two hours before we had to head back.  Instead we crossed over on foot, stopping on the other side to grab some photographs.  As we were there the first week of December they were setting up a firework show to mark the anniversary of the Allied attack so at several points throughout the day the sky was full of the sound of gun-fire, which was quite unnerving.

Whilst returning to our car we stopped off to see a man with a baby leopard, whom we’d actually spotted whilst on our way to the bridge.  We had a little chat with him, the leopard was called Mokka and he was seven-months old, born into captivity and hand reared.  They were offering the chance to give him some milk and a stroke in exchange for donations towards the zoo.  We were both a bit hesitant, mainly because a lot of the zoos in Thailand have reputations for cruelty and secondly, because I knew my mother would kill me.  However, Mokka looked happy and healthy with clear eyes and a glossy coat and the man seemed very nice and knowledgeable.  Before I knew it I was sitting there, feeding a baby leopard chicken pieces and milk from a bottle!
When we got back to the hotel later that night, Mark looked up the park on the internet and like many zoos in Thailand they didn’t really have a good record for animal welfare.  Although they’d recently started a very successful volunteer project focussed on improving the care for their wildlife.  This seems to be a very big area in Thailand that is under scrutiny at the moment.

Next on our busy day’s itinerary was an evening trip to Lumphini Stadium to watch some Muay Thai boxing.  We had ringside seats so we were really in the action and I was in total sinus-overload from the overwhelming scent of Tiger balm!  According to Thai tradition, ladies are not allowed to touch the boxing ring so of course Mark had to hold me back from desecrating their boxing shrine.  It was absolutely amazing – there’s so much skill and focus involved and it’s not nearly as violent as you’d think – it’s all very controlled.  It’s a sport that the country is very passionate about and watching the spectators at times was as entertaining as the actual bout!
Tired and happy we took the Metro back towards our hotel area.  And I’m ashamed to say that in the land of incredible Thai cuisine... we went to McDonalds.  In our defence, all the great restaurants were closed and all the good street vendors had long since cleared off home.  A double Big Mac (yes they do doubles here!) was very nice, but not a patch on a good Pad Thai.

More soon – we’re having a lazy day today – off to Chiang Mai tomorrow to meet elephants and learn the art of Thai cuisine!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Phone Sex Voice

We have a running joke at work that my interpreter has a "phone sex" voice. I've been nagging her to change the voicemail on my phone, but we still haven't come up with a script.

I asked a friend to pen something for me; here's the result:

Start off with

Hello..... (purrrrrrrrr)
This is Caroline's (pause) phone
I'm deaf, but also extremely busy
And wouldn't you like to know what I'm busy with?
If you want to get hold of me... (purrrr)
Send me a text and maybe.... (pause)
I'll get back to you! (sigh)

Ummm. Maybe not.

Suggestions in the message box, please!