29 December 2002, Chiang Mai
We woke around 8:00 and went out to have breakfast along Tha Phae Rd. We decided to try a place across the street from the J.J. Cafe called Phannon Cafe (or something to that effect). It was slightly cheaper than the J.J. Cafe, but it also wasn’t as nice as the J.J. Cafe in terms of facilities. The food wasn’t bad—Hyunjin had a banana pancake, which turned out to be a pancake with banana slices on it, and I had scrambled eggs with bacon and a croissant—but it wasn’t the greatest, either.
We returned to Moon Muang Rd. before 10:00 and went to the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School office. We began after 10:00—apparently the drivers were late—and started our day with a tour of the local market. Sompon, the chef, took us around the market and introduced us to the various ingredients in Thai food. He lived in England for a number of years with his wife, so his English was very good and easy to understand. He also has a sense of humor, so the tour was interesting as well as informative.
After finishing the tour of the market we were driven about 15 minutes to Sompon’s house outside Chiang Mai. The classes are also offered at the school in town, but the classes at his house are apparently quite popular. The neighborhood is very nice, and the house is beautiful. There is a small indoor classroom where Sompon (or, in the case of the simpler dishes, one of his assistants) demonstrates how to cook the dishes. Then everyone files outside to the open (although roofed) cooking area, where all the ingredients and utensils are waiting at each individual station. Most of the cooking is done in a wok, and each station is equipped with a very powerful gas range—they’re basically vertically mounted flamethrowers.
The first dish we cooked was chicken in coconut milk soup, and it was very good. We next tackled fish in red curry, which I found to be the hardest of the dishes—I think I burned my curry a little. This dish was covered and set aside for lunch. After that was a mushroom stir fry which proved to be easier and tasty—but nothing new to me, since stir fry is pretty much universal these days. We ate this dish on the spot, like the chicken. Our final main dish was fried noodles with pork, which we took out to the attached dining hut along with our curry for lunch.
I had had the fried noodles before at Thai restaurants, and I enjoyed them just as much here. The curry was a bit hot and thick—again, perhaps because I burned it—but it wasn’t bad. Still, it was probably my least favorite dish. I much prefer Indian style curries, or Korean/Japanese style curries.
After lunch we had two more dishes, som tam and steamed banana cakes for dessert. Hyunjin and I tried the som tam at Si Phen restaurant yesterday, so it was interesting to see how it was made. The steamed banana cake was something new, and it was very good—very rich and sweet, if you like that sort of thing.
Shortly after we finished dessert we were driven back to the school on Moon Muang Rd. I started feeling a bit ill on the ride back, and when we got back to the school we went straight to the guesthouse to rest. I think the only time I have ever felt more bloated in my life was the time I funneled a six-pack of Mountain Dew at university (yes, I did almost die, or at least it felt that way). The cookery school was a very good experience and a lot of fun, but there was just way too much food to eat. If I had to do it over again, I would have definitely eaten less and left more behind. This is not the way I was brought up, though (“children in Ethiopia are starving,” etc.), so I ended up stuffing myself. It wasn’t until 20:00 that I felt I could move again, and that’s when we ventured outside.
I had forgotten, but the guesthouse owner had mentioned that there was a Sunday market in front of Tha Phae Gate. It was actually much more than that—the market sprawled out in front of Tha Phae Gate and then extended down Tha Phae Rd all the way to the Night Bazaar, forming one huge night market full of stalls, food vendors, lights, musical performers, and wave after wave of people, but Thai and farang (i.e., foreign). As we walked by Tha Phae Gate, we heard music from a concert on the stage that had been set up there. I thought to myself, ‘That sounds an awful lot like Korean palace music.’ We wandered over to the stage to discover that it was, indeed, Korean palace music—apparently a performing group from Korea was touring Thailand. The palace music was good, but the samullori (a form of percussion music featuring drums and gongs) that followed was disappointing—the students at SNU (Seoul National University, my school) could have done a much better job.
We moved on to browse through some of the clothing stalls there, and we picked out a nice shirt with an elephant and Thai writing on it for my brother. Hopefully he hasn’t grown out of his hippie phase yet. We also passed by a hand-painted T-shirt shop on the north side of Tha Phae Rd. run by a very friendly and talented guy who goes by the name of John Gallery. He had a lot of very colorful T-shirts for sale, but one that really caught my eye was a colorful shirt depicting a lone bamboo raftsman poling his way down a river. At the top of the T-shirt was a paraphrase of Tolkien: “All those who wander are not lost” (the original line is, I think, “Not all who wander are lost,” from the poem used to identify Aragorn in Fellowship of the Ring). It appealed to me for its broader meaning, and the painting was beautiful. When I asked him if it was safe to wash, he pointed to a T-shirt immersed in a fish tank. The shirt had been there long enough to gather algae, but the colors had not run, so I made my purchase.
We followed Tha Phae road all the way down to the Night Bazaar, then took that road south, and turned west again to make our way home. Unlike other nights, we didn’t buy anything at the Night Bazaar, perhaps because we had finally had our fill of it, or maybe because we weren’t feeling too well from eating so much. At any rate, we were eager to get home, so we pretty much sped through the Night Bazaar and went straight back to the guesthouse.