Northern Thailand Tour: After the chaotic start in Bangkok, we need a break. We jump once again on a plane, and we head up to Chiang Mai. I’ve heard all around that it is a must-visit place. I don’t know what to expect; I came to see the beach. Hey, there is no beach around here! – Wife insisted, fine, we will go check it out.
After just one hour flight, we get there. We stayed at the quiet and polished Le Meridien Chang Mai, which looks like a giant in the middle of a quiet town. I loved the place, but the hotel seems a bit out of context.
We head out for some local eating. We asked around to some people, and their consensus is for us to go to – LemonGrass, which I wrote on a piece of paper Raymond-Glass by the locals’ sound. (I am sure you can figure it out why)
We get there, nothing fancy. Plastic chairs, plastic tables, and packed with people. It reminded me of the places which the great Anthony Bourdain would stop and eat.
The place is full, and I don’t know what to think, coming from the highly sterilized US, I wonder if my stomach can handle it. I said fuck it; we are in Northern Thailand. I have to do it.
We order some stuff; they recommend the Green Curry. At that point, I have to admit I had some curries in the past, mostly in the Thai restaurants in the US, and I enjoyed them very much. A few minutes later, the little guy shows up with a dish bigger than his chest and drops it in front of me. The smell tickles my nose. It is spicy.
People in Northern Thailand are small but strong. And they love their spicy food. I am amazed seeing them carrying big dishes of food around; I see them unloading an enormous truck full of 30-gallon water bottles, and just the visual makes my back hurt.
I stare at the dish, and after a second, I give it a try. Man, oh man, oh man, oh man. The sweet, savory, creamy crunchy spicy, soft and delicious balance is perfection. The beautiful and colorful ingredients, once before, sitting in perfect harmony on the dish now are in my mouth and feels like heaven. It is hot outside, and it gets hotter with each spoon full of coconuty paradise that hits my mouth. I cannot stop eating. I am sweating profusely, and I like it!
We finish our food and head back to the hotel. It is time to make some plans. Although I am full of sweet-savory coconut deliciousness, just like a heroin addict, which by the way, a lot came from this area, I am hooked. I need more, and not only that, I need to learn how to make it. We drop all our planned city walks and sign up for a cooking class. With who, you might ask? Appropriately named The best Thai cookery school.
The best Thai cookery school in Northern Thailand
We arranged all at the hotel, a few hours later they will pick us up. A quick stop at the Chiang Mai market to grab some spices, we learn how they make fresh coconut cream, the different chilies, and a good tip. Since we can’t get any of these ingredients outside of Thailand, which comes as a surprise to the guide, he recommends we get a couple of Lobo Curry pastes. Although I was a bit on the fence, trust me, once out of Thailand, these are the closest you will get to those delicious dishes.
We get back in the van, and now we head out to the jungle. I have to admit I am a bit concerned, a van full of tourists heading into the jungle, sure that sounds like a great idea.
Suddenly opens up, and we are in front of a lovely little farm; we get off and walk around, we hand-pick some of the ingredients, like lemongrass, mushrooms and we head to the open kitchen. The guy gives us the instructions, and together we make curries, sautee stuff, and light shit on fire.
Watch the video below.
I probably had six beers, and we head back to the hotel. I am full and happy. Never thought that I would have so much fun at a cooking class, and I still make those delicious curry dishes at home; of course, they do not taste as fresh as they did there, but for sure are better than any Thai restaurant I have tried here.
The elephant dilemma
The next day is going to be an interesting one. We are going to hang out with elephants. And yes, all that you’ve heard is true. And if you haven’t heard it here, it goes. For many years elephants in Northern Thailand were used in the logging industry to drag wood out of the forest. Two issues right there, animal cruelty and deforestation. They hurt them and used them as tractors. Some other guys, not sure if less lucky, were used in the circus. They learned tricks, and the circus people would beat the shit out of them to teach them how to sit.
Fast forward years, and with the international pressure of tourism, the use of these poor animals declined, so all these guys that used to work for their food, which is a ton. Now we’re out of jobs and starving to death. Ten years ago, you could see people on the street with their elephants begging for money to feed the beast, not a good sight. Some guy figures out that instead of logs, he could put people on their backs, and just like that, they were in business again. The part they don’t tell you is that they weren’t used to that, so all that work hurt them even more—a terrible vicious cycle.
Fast forward to now, and there is a new business in town. The sanctuary, and I’ll call it for what it is. The same poor guys, which BTW can live up to 90 years, now instead of doing tricks or carrying logs or fat American or Russian tourists in their backs, are fed and bathed by hippies like me. It is a business, but they can make a bit of money so they can eat without the pain. I left with a heavy heart, but at least it sounds these guys finally are not being affected by physical punishment.
Fuck I do get just sad by writing about this. The bottom line, it is still a business. The guys need to eat, and you get to hang out with them for a bit and see your reflection in their kind eyes. Is it good? Would I do it again? Probably not. I would prefer if they left them alone, but also there is always a risk that some poacher would steal them while they hang out in the jungle. Humans sometimes are far from being great.
Do you want to do something? Don’t ride them and if you can please donate to the good humans trying to keep them alive while tourism is down due to COVID, all cruelty-free.
These are the facts. I will let you decide what to think.
Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand
Alright, Jesus! that got heavy fast! The final day, and up to Chiang Rai of Northern Thailand. We took a bus and made it all the way almost to freaking Burma, which, BTW it is going through some shit as I write, democracy man, always fragile.
Pretty nice place Chang Rai. It is quiet, the food is as good as in Chang Mai, there is a Game of Thrones-like wild white temple, and it feels like being in the middle of the Amazon. I often mentally transport myself there.
We stayed at the Le Meridien too, a sleepy resort by the river with a wonderful pool. Please do yourself a favor and go check it out one day. The blue-tiled infinite pool, with endless Cerveza service and excellent Thai food, while you lay in the sun in the middle of the green jungle will drain all the stress away from your life, and perhaps for a minute will remind you why we came to this planet on the first place.
2 thoughts on “A non-backpacker traveling guide to Thailand: Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai”
Nice piece! This brought me back to some of the spots I visited myself in 2015. Keep up the good work!
Thank you, man! Appreciate it. It’s been tough to be locked in, trying to bring up some good memories from the past. Great work there as well.