all that jazz

james' blog about scala and all that jazz

Thai Cooking

One of the best experiences I've had so far on this trip was doing a Thai cooking course. No one from my tour wanted to do it, instead I ended up doing it with an Intrepid group, there were 6 of us in all. We started off by going to the markets and buying most of the ingredients needed for what we were cooking. Our instructor explained to us what the different spices were, and showed us different vegies, and taught us how to recognise which ones were good and which weren't. We also saw them make coconut cream and coconut milk fresh for us.

At the cooking course, I made pad thai, thai spicy soup, green curry, and banana in coconut milk. The food was amazing, best Thai food I've had in Thailand! It was also incredibly quick to cook, I never realised it was so quick to make Thai food properly. When I get back to Australia I am definitely seeking out all the ingredients to make the food, it's almost as quick as unfreezing the frozen meals I usually make.

The Trek

Well, 4 days of trekking through the hilltribes, do I have something to blog about!

Day 1

The first day started with a stop off at the markets to buy food for the journey, then we headed up into the mountains in the back of a ute. The road was incredibly steep and narrow, while it was sealed, there was only really room for one car on it. There were heaps of blind corners, everytime our driver came up to a corner he would beep his horn to indicate to anyone coming around the corner that he was coming. We drove along this road for almost an hour, before coming to a village, where we met our porters. We then hiked to our first village, in just over an hour. My group was all very fit, we did the hike in about half the time that the groups usually do it. Our guide struggled to keep up with us, while the porters had no problem, because they are locals to this area and used to it.

In the first village, the women all dressed quite well, wearing purple and lots of bright colours. There were around 20 people in this village. They all came to us and did a tribal dance for us, where we joined in. The interesting thing about this dance was that the music was very simple, they had a 3 string guitar, and only played 2 chords, with plain straight strokes the whole time. The dancing was just holding hands in a circle around a fire, and stepping sideways, stopping every few beats to stomp on the ground. Our guide told us this is the only dance and song that they do, and they will do this over and over all night. And they loved it. I found that really odd that they could get so much enjoyment out of the same simple thing over and over and over again.

Our dwelling was a simple grass/bamboo hut, where all 15 of us slept. The beds were simply a raised floor on each side of the hut, with grass matts. It was very uncomfortable, I hardly slept that night. Our guide made us a really nice tofu green curry for dinner, I think it was the best green curry I've had since coming to Thailand, it was very spicey.

Day 2

I was woken up at 5am by the roosters crowing. All the villages we went to had chickens, cows, pigs and dogs. I slept in as much as I could before breakfast. When I went outside, women from the surrounding villages had come and set up little market stores on plastic matts in a circle to sell hats, bags, drink holders and jewellery that they had made. The funny thing was that every single store was the same, each woman had made exactly the same stuff. So, after looking at one womans products, you had seen them all. But, we still felt obligated to have a look at every store. It was quite painful, saying no I'm not interested 10 to 12 times.

The toilets on the trek were probably the hardest thing to deal with. The toilets were squat toilets, in a little room, some of the rooms were made out of bamboo and so if you went at night, you had to turn the torch off otherwise everyone could see in. There was no flush, the flush was a big bowl of water beside the toilet with a scoop, you would scoop the water into the toilet to flush it. To shower, there was another bowl of water with a scoop, and you would scoop the cold water over you. And it was all very dirty and muddy. Needless to say, I was very relieved to be able to use a sit down toilet when I got back to the hotel.

The second day was the longest trek, though we did it in about half the time of most groups. I think our guide said that there are usually some older people, 50 to 60 year olds on the hike, that slow the group down. Our oldest people were early thirties, and they were all very fit. For lunch we stopped near a waterfall, and swam there. Seeing as it was the rainy season, there was a lot of water going down the water fall. The bottom of the waterfall was all pebbles, and the pebbles would be moving about in the turbulant water so that it was a little painful to be in front of the waterfall. But exhilarating none the less.

At times the hike was very steep. Going up hill, this was ok, I enjoy walking up hill. There was a really long up hill bit, usually it takes the group 90 minutes but we did it in 40. That was great. But the down hill was painful. The track was very muddy and slippery, and so it was very easy to slip over. Fortunately, I never did slip over, but I busted some pretty mad dance moves.

The scenary was incredibly green, mud aside, the wet season really is a good time to go trekking in Thailand. I got a number of very nice photos. The village we arrived in that evening was very basic. There were 2 teenage girls there that we tried to talk to in their dialect using our phrase sheet, but they just laughed at us. That was probably the hardest night, because it rained a lot, the roof of the hut leaked, and everything was just very wet and muddy. And by that time, everyones clothes stunk. There also wasn't as much room in the hut.

Day 3

Day 3 was meant to be a fairly quick bamboo rafting trip. Unfortunately though, the river level was too high and moving too fast, it would have been dangerous, because there water was flowing through fallen trees, if the raft turned over and anyone went into the trees, they would have been dragged under the branches, and if they got caught underneath, they would have been dead. So, instead, it was a 4 hour hike. The hike actually wasn't too bad, it just followed the river, went up and down as tracks that follow rivers do, but nothing too steep. Everything was very wet though and a number of people, including myself, got leaches on them.

Our campsite that night was not in a village, it was at a hut beside the river. Compared to the previous 2 nights, this hut was 5 star luxury, the beers were cold! That afternoon we went for elephant rides. It was kinda fun, but elephants are big smelly and disobedient animals, they kept stopping for food. We had a great night that night sitting around the campfire playing games and drinking.

I actually had a good nights sleep that night, they had (thin) mattresses in the hut, and it had a proper tiled roof. The beer probably also helped.

Day 4

Day 4 wasn't much of a day, basically we just said goodbye to our porters, and drove back to Chiang Mai. Our porters were great. Because of the language barrier, having fun with them meant really basic jokes, mostly about being gay. The word for lady boy in Thai is ka-toi. So we were telling our porters they were katoi, and they were saying no, I'm rambo, you katoi. It was all lots of fun.

After getting back to Chiang Mai, most of us ordered masseuses to our rooms. We then went out in the evening and went and saw some Thai boxers sparring, and drank a lot of cocktails.

Chiang Mai

Well, what a cool trip this is turning out to be. I can say that I was in a country which was a constitutional monarchy one day, and a dictatorship the next. That sounds all very exciting, but really, it's not. Here in Chiang Mai, 12 hours train ride north of Bangkok, everything is normal. No ones uneasy or upset, life just continues on as normal. The only difference is that apparently, and I haven't seen them, there are military personel on the streets with automatic weapons. Unfortunately, it looks like it will have an impact on our tour, in 3 days we were hoping to cross the border into Burma for half a day, but the northern borders have been sealed. My tour guide has said there is absolutely nothing to worry about, and everyone believes that this will be peacefully resolved. I've seen the transmissions on tv, the military appears to have every intention to hand control back to the people as soon as possible.

Anyway, onto my trip. Yesterday we took a 5 hour bus trip to Ayutthaya. Ayutthaya used to be the capital of Thailand, 250 years ago. Then the Burmese came through and destroyed every temple. So the king packed up and went to Bangkok. So, yesterday we went to the ruins of two major temples. They were quite amazing, these buildings were 700 years old. All the budhas had had their heads smashed off.

In the evening we boarded the overnight train to Chiang Mai. Here we met the rest of my tour group for the next 6 days. Up until now it's been 3 of us, but now it's 15. Out of the 12 new people, 6 of them are Mexican exchange students studying at Macquarie University. The rest are Aussies, a young couple from the central coast, a girl from Newcastle, and the rest from Sydney. They're a pretty good group, everyones easy going, so there's no disagreements in what to do etc.

We stayed up reasonably late partying in the dining car, a lot of backpackers were on this train from a large number of different countries. I've never had so much fun on a train before! I had just enough alcohol to put my straight to sleep, usually I don't sleep on trains but this time, no problems.

We arrived in Chiang Mai at around 9am, went to the hotel, and then we went to the jewelery and silk factories. We got to see them make the jewelery and the silk, and I picked up some good bargains for presents for my family. After that we went to one of the temples, a big one up in the mountains. It was very ornate, but temples aren't really my sorta thing.