We were actually a little sad to leave our hostel in Siem Reap — the people were amazing and the bohemian vibe made us feel pretty cool, like those real hardcore backpackers. But as we hopped in the tuk-tuk to go to the airport (no complicated border crossings this time), we were pretty excited to head back to Thailand and get to Chiang Mai.
The flight was only about an hour, and we landed with around five hours before our overnight train. We went straight to the train station to ensure we didn’t miss anything, but soon realized that it wasn’t really a place we wanted to hang out. We should have just eaten at the airport because it’s a well-documented fact: There is never good food around train stations. After a failed lunch at the world’s worst chain (so bad we blacked out the experience and the name of the place), we ended up at a 7-11. Oh, thank heaven. Because we were maybe still feeling more badass than we really are (thanks to the hostel), we purchased a bunch of crazy snacks. The chip flavors are RIDICULOUS. No sour cream and onion or regular barbecue for the Thai — they had flavors like “salmon with dill,” “hot chili squid,” and, our favorite,”lobster hot plate.” We haven’t yet cracked open the lobster chips (GET IT!?)… but we’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.
We had second-class sleeper car tickets this time (oh yeah, moving on up) and our seats were pretty awesome and spacious. And, when we were ready to really relax, the seats were converted into bunk beds. Wild. We hung out on the bottom bunk, and the curtains made it feel like a fort. Not a bad way to spend an evening. Plus, when we woke up, we were in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city that’s located in the northern region of the country.
We found a breakfast place that served banana pancakes before checking out our new hostel. Thank god for the full breakfast, because our hostel was the worst. It felt like the Von Trapp family home… pre-Maria, of course. There were just so many rules and so many signs telling us to be quiet. We had to get out of there, so we spent most of the first day just checking out the old city, which lies within a moat. The day was pretty uneventful, but something major did happen… we had our first taste of real, authentic, pad Thai. We know it’s terrible, but we kind of prefer the pad Thai at our local takeout joint in DC. But really, this was only the first try. There’s more out there.
The next day included an activity that we had both really been looking forward to — our cooking class!
A group of us all squished into a van and headed out with the Thai Farm Cooking School. Right away, we loved our guide/instructor, Embee, a lovely woman with an inimitable laugh and a wicked sense of humor. The first stop was the market, where we learned all about the ingredients we would be using and ogled at some that we were thankful to not be needing.
After the market, we went to the cooking school’s organic farm and learned more about the herbs and spices we’d be using. Mike, in a display of bravado and upon Embee’s urging, took a bite of a raw Thai chili and spent the next 90 minutes extinguishing the fire in his mouth and regaining the feeling in his lips.
There were many more chilies to be tried, as we learned how to make different soups, green and red curries with chicken, sweet and sour chicken, our very own pad Thai, and finished up with a mango sticky rice dessert. The class was nothing but good times and giggles, and we ended up meeting a fantastic British couple — Matt and Anouska — who invited us out for drinks later that evening.
Despite some rain, we had a ridiculously fun time. Anouska had found a bar that was off the beaten path of tourists and more for Thai twenty-somethings attending the local university. When we first walked in, the live band was playing Thai pop songs. Maybe it was because we stuck out pretty badly, and maybe it was just fate, but the band switched to English songs and our evening really escalated. We heard a lot of Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, and Rihanna. The best though, was hearing Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” TWICE by two different bands. The second version was way better and we all got pretty into it. It was hard to tell if the singers actually knew the lyrics they were singing, or if they were just mimicking the sounds, but it didn’t matter.
Kathleen had made it perfectly clear that we turned into pumpkins at midnight (because we were being picked up at 8 a.m. the next morning to see the elephants), yet the hours flew by and we made it home — after a late-night trip to an aptly named burger joint called Mike’s — around 2:30. You know what? Maybe we actually are kind of badass.