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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

Thailand’s second city, Chiang Mai, is Bangkok‘s kid brother in the north; just as seedy, but not quite as overbearing. Like Bangkok, I honestly didn’t care much for Chiang Mai. The big cities I’ve visited this trip have taken the worst things from the west and used them to exploit local people. The tourist area is your stereotypical Thailand: old western guys with hot young Thai girls, prostitutes (many of whom were not born women), shady massage parlors, girly bars, grossly overpriced food, etc. Outside of the rather large whore-zone, there is a decent sized night market, a ton of great local eating establishments, and some of the best cooking classes in Thailand.
Because the cooking classes have such a great rep, I decided to take one while I was in town. I went to Siem Rice Cookery School and had a very nice time. Along with 8 other people, I did the all-day class and made 7 dishes (curry paste counted as a dish). In typical cooking class fashion, we started with a trip to the market where the driver explained Thai ingredients that no one other than he and I were familiar with. The class itself lasted 5 hours and was taught by a very funny, rather rotund woman named Nan. She was awesome and the class did not have the stuffy/formal (professional) feeling that you may find elsewhere. It seemed like we were hanging out with a family (her husband is the driver/assistant), joking around, cooking, eating, and having a good time. You are allowed to choose from several options for each course and everyone in the class doesn’t have to make the same thing. I went classic with tom yam soup, pad thai, spring rolls, holy basil chicken, massaman curry, and young coconut with sticky rice. For the saute course, where I made the holy basil chicken, we got to make a huge flame in the wok, which was very exciting. The class was great and worth the money, but I had a better overall experience with the amazing Miss Vy in Hoi An.
Chiang Mai was also the start and end point for my ten day motorbike journey of the Mae Hong Son Loop and serves as a starting point for some great trekking. Since I had the best possible trek with Mr. Chart, and was out of time, I didn’t do a trek out of Chiang Mai. I’ve long grown tired of the temple/palace thing and did not visit any while I was in town, but they are there if you desire.
I hadn’t researched a guesthouse and it took a while to find a suitable place, but I ended up finding one of the best guesthouses I came across. I did not want to stay in, or in the immediate vicinity of, the tourist area. La Maison Verde is a 5 minute walk to the start of the madness that is far enough away to have some peace and quiet. As the name suggests, the owner is French. Thierry and his amazing Thai girlfriend Jang run the place and are topnotch hosts. My experience has shown that “guesthouse” is often little more than a euphemism for “cheap hotel.” La Maison Verde is one of the few places that I genuinely felt at home in. Jang is one of the sweetest people I have ever met and Thierry is honest, polite, and truly cares about his guests. I found them by chance, walking down a side street on the night I arrived and they did not officially open for business until a week after I arrived. They have big, clean rooms, free wifi, and shared bathrooms. There are only 3 rooms in the guesthouse so the shared bathroom thing is not an issue. Jang is finishing up her menu and will be opening the kitchen very soon. If you are going to Chiang Mai, I highly recommend staying with these great people at a true guesthouse.
If you are going to northern Thailand, that means you will be going to Chiang Mai. I think it is a good start and end point to a relatively untapped part of an amazing country. I strongly suggest renting a bike from Tony’s Big Bikes and hitting up the Mae Hong Son Loop. It’s not a bad place to spend a couple days to check out the night market, take a cooking class, or see what a non-Bangkok big Thai city is like.

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