Chiang Mai – the highlight of our trip

We just loved Chiang Mai.  We waved good bye to Cambodia and headed for Northern Thailand.  We had heard great things about Chiang Mai, and they all turned out to be true.  One of the first things that made us happy was the drop in temperature.  After Cambodia, it was so nice to be greeted by temps in the 70s, and low humidity!

We arrived late afternoon and were brought right to our hotel, 137 Pillars House (137pillarschiangmai.com/en/ ).

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The hotel is fabulous.  It is so picturesque, and the service is outstanding.

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Our welcome drink- Purple Juice- made from the Butterfly Pea Flower.

We were assigned a Butler (Pui) at check-in who was constantly in contact with us both in person and by text to make sure all of our needs were met- from the mundane of what time is breakfast to reconfirming reservations, flights, and coordinating massages and transportation.  She was a dream!

We were shown around the hotel grounds- spectacular.

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So peaceful!
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Honoring the Elephant
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Awesome interiors
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The perfect little bar

We decided to relax with a drink, and then enjoy dinner in the Hotel’s restaurant.  We were tired from traveling and didn’t want to have to think too hard.  As it happened, the meal was very good.  There are two restaurants for dinner at the hotel, one which is a bit more “American” and one which concentrates on Northern Thai specialties.  We chose the Thai focused one.

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Crab fried rice with an egg on top
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Chicken Satay
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Soft Shell Crab with Pomelo- so yummy
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Summer rolls

We ordered a good array of dishes, and went off to our rooms with full bellies.  We still had the benefit of plenty of Holiday decorations.

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Finally we got to really take a good look at the rooms.  They were both similar, and very comfortable.

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I loved the fact that there was both an inside shower,

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and an outside shower.

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We were anxious for the next day to arrive as we were embarking on a food tour that was reputed to be fabulous.  There are many options for food tours in Chiang Mai, but we chose to go with A Chef’s Tour (/achefstour.com/tour/chiang-mai-lunchtime-food-tasting-tour ).  Our guide was Moui, and she led us on a five hour eating extravaganza. We even had our own red truck to take us around.

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We met Moui along with another family at our meeting spot,  Wat Lok Mole Temple.  It looked beautiful, but we didn’t have time to admire it- we headed right for our truck.

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Mind you, it was just 10 am, but we headed immediately to KhaoSoy MaeSai which is famous for their Khao Soi- a coconut curry with crispy noodles, chili paste and pickled greens.  Most of us had it with chicken, one of my sons tried it with beef.

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This was truly one of the best meals we had in al of Thailand.  It was unbelievable.  It was also the equivalent of about $1.60

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Here is the open air kitchen,

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Following this meal, and a quick stop in the rest room (again with the warning that there would be no facilities at our next stop), we jumped back in our red truck and went to a local Chiang Mai  market.  It was very large, but Moui navigated it like a pro.

We started with a variety of vegetables, greens, herbs and fruits, some which were recognizable, many which were completely local.  We smelled, and tasted, a variety of things that set our tastebuds on fire.

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So many new tastes

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chili pepper buffet
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Spice pastes- in all degrees of heat
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Homemade fish sauces- some very pungent
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Like a work of art

These pink Century Eggs are beautiful on the outside, but a bit surprising on the inside. All my guys were game for a taste. I passed.

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Take a look…

The Century Eggs set the stage for the detour into the butchery area,  IMG_1521.jpg

and the frog stall.

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Though it was a bit traumatic to see the pig face, everyone loved seeing the mountains of  pork cracklings.  Really tasty, I must say.

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There are vendors who will whip up a curry paste to your specifications, quick as lightning.

We also loved the Sai Oua, a local sausage that Chiang Mai is known for.

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Just to get a perspective- this is a fraction of what we tasted.  We were really slowing down at this point.  We moved to the fruits and the sweets, so many variations, each beautiful, and all so delicious- but you couldn’t eat many.  We had more jack fruit.

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We got to see the  butterfly pea flowers that the purple juice is made from.

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These Kanom Buang crispy crepes filled with meringue were especially amazing.

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Moui was still going strong, but we had to surrender- especially as we had three more stops to make.  The breadth of tastes we had was truly outstanding.

We left the market and headed to have a quick bubble tea.  Not the most sophisticated ingredients- but a real local treat.

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The powdered iced tea mixed with condensed milk and tapioca bubbles couldn’t help but reinvigorate us.  They also had iced coffee.  Rocket fuel.

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Our next stop was a local spot for Gai Ying chicken and papaya salad.  Open air, (but with a place to wash your hands), and filled with lunch time diners.

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really delicious chicken
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spicy and refreshing

Our last stop was an ice cream stop.  We walked and found ourself in what seemed to be part of someone’s home.  It was a home-made  ice cream stand in a residential neighborhood- which is self serve and on an honor system;  people come and take ice cream and leave their money.  This was such a happy place for me.  Who could believe this could work? But it does.

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I chose Ovaltine.  It was delicious.

This brought us to the end of our tour.  It was truly one of the best food tours we have been on.  A Chef’s Tour has tours all over South East Asia.  I would heartily recommend them.  The price was just $55 per person, and it was well worth every penny.

Moui did tell us that after the tour, if we had an ounce of room, we should check out Ristr8to  (  www.ristr8to-coffee-chiangmai.com/) which is an extraordinary Coffee bar whose Barrista’s win world Barrista competitions again and again.  What did we do? We headed right there.  There was a large line outside which somehow we seemed to jump. We sat right down and perused the menu.

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I loved the Godmother Mocha (especially the skull glass)

Look at this coffee artwork!  It was sad to drink it.IMG_1613.jpg

At this point in the day we had to go home an nap.  Delicious, fun and filling.  We headed back to the hotel in a Tuk Tuk and showered off.

While we definitely didn’t need dinner, we had heard that The Service 1921 in the beautiful Anantara Hotel was very good.  We decided to check it out.

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The restaurant had a British Spy theme.

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It was cute, but very underwhelming food wise.  I would say you could most certainly skip it.

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Eh

Back to the hotel to sleep and get ready for what we knew would be the highlight of our Chiang Mai visit- The Elephants!!

We woke up and enjoyed the extensive hotel breakfast- complete with Eastern and Western Specialties.  I enjoyed a hearty bowl of white rice and some peppermint tea to recover from the previous days adventures.

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Breakfast outside
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More purple juice!

We did a bit of walking before we headed up to Patara Elephant Farm  (/www.pataraelephantfarm.com ).  There is no shortage of beautiful sights in Chiang Mai.

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Patara Elephant Farm includes transportation to and from your location in their price.  There are many options to choose from as far as your elephant experience.  We booked several months ahead of time and our only choice was a two hour afternoon session,  and we had to really push for that spot.  The lesson there is book ahead!  We left our hotel at 1 pm along with a bag of towels thoughtfully provided by 137 Pillars. The ride was a bit more than an hour.  There are many elephant sanctuaries in Northern Thailand- but we had heard that Patara was especially responsible and humane, and the elephants were well cared for.

When we arrived we were met by elephant guides- and lots of elephants.  They are amazing animals.  Beautiful, huge, and full of personality.  Each group of guests were assigned their own elephant(s) and handler. Our two hour visit included elephant education, feeding, and bathing.

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The youngest member of our group was a boy of about 4 or 5 who was loving the experience.

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I think the highlight of the elephant’s day is healthy snacking.

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This was our guide/educator.  We spent quite a bit of time learning about how the elephant’s poop is a great indicator of their general health.  This poop received an A+, and we all got to get up close and personal with it.

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Our elephant loved baby bananas- especially when we placed them in their mouths. We were rewarded with big elephant smiles.

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After feeding, we led our elephants down to the river where they relaxed and frolicked in the water.  Everyone got in to help give them a good scrub.  They certainly seemed pretty blissed out.

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Beauty 101

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There was a woman who had the special job of poop scooper.  Luckily the poop floated in the water for easy retrieval.

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After the baths the baby elephant’s decided to get dirty again, right away.

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The people at Patara were friendly and enthusiastic.  They were completely humane in their treatment of the elephants.  The animals seemed to be happy to obey commands for praise and food reward.  They were gentle and seemed to love the human contact.  One perk is that there is a photographer taking pictures throughout, and you are given access to these photos online at the end of the day. For Free.  Usually you need to purchase a disc with photos- but not here.  It was a feel good experience all around.

We loaded back in our van and headed towards Chaing Mai.  We had a final dinner in town at Ginger Kafe (www.thehousebygingercm.com ).  We ate outside.  Unfortunatley, this highly recommended restaurant was just eh.  It paled in comparison to all our treats on our Chef’s tour, and we were sorry we didn’t return to KhaoSoy MaeSai.

All in all, we LOVED Chiang Mai.  The people are incredibly friendly, the sites beautiful, and the food delicious.  And those elephants…!

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