Thursday

I woke up on the train to a sunny sky outside and rolling hills gradually turning into city. We were arriving in Chiang Mai, the north of Thailand. Fletch and I had just crossed the entire country, from south to north, by train.

I had wondered if it would be cold up north. It wasn't. As we carried our backpacks off the train the air was still as hot and humid as it had been in Koh Tao. Yet it was different somehow.

There were a number of red, covered, open-backed trucks lined up outside the train station waiting to transport people to their hotels and hostels. We found one and gave the guy the name our our hotel, Raming Lodge. We showed up to be told that our room wasn't ready yet, so we left our bags and walked down the street to rent a couple motorbikes. When we returned the room still wasn't ready so we spent some time looking at the tourist counter full of brochures, and ended up booking a cooking class for the afternoon and a night safari for that evening. Needing to kill still more time, Fletch went to fill the bikes up with gas. The following day was the King's birthday, a national holiday, and so gas stations might not be open.

I walked across the street in search of lunch. We had been told that our cooking class was four hours long and that seemed like a long time to wait for food. The only restaurant on the block that was open was run by a muslim lady who had a menu of ten items. I sat down and ordered a pad thai and a garlic shrimp and after waiting for several moments, realized that there was no music playing, just a tape of someone chanting the same syllable over and over and over again. Fletch joined me after a while and we couldn't eat and get away from the chanting fast enough. I finally went up to the counter to pay and saw that there was a hypnotizing video to go along with the chanting. Creepy.

We went back to our hotel and our room was finally ready. We dropped our bags off inside and immediately got the phone call from reception that our pick up was there for our afternoon cooking class. We hurried down to the lobby where a guy and a girl dressed in kitchen aprons were waiting for us. They made small talk and led us down the street and around the corner. The cooking school couldn't have been closer.

We walked into a waiting area where we could see a big open area full of stove tops and tables just beyond. A banner over the entrance to this main area proclaimed: "Our food is guaranteed to make you look pregnant!" The only thing that's funnier then mistranslations is when they do get the English right and you get to see what they think a good catch phrase would be. Fletch and I were each handed a slip of paper with four categories on it: appetizers, curry pastes, curries, & main dishes; and listed under each category was an option of four different dishes. We each got to pick out one dish from each category, so we made sure to choose all different dishes to assure a good selection. For the appetizers, we joined the all day class who had already been cooking all morning. Four different chefs separated us out by which dish we had chosen to learn, so I went over to the table with all the other papaya salad people. The lady teaching us used to be a chef in Singapore so I knew we were in good hands. Each of us had all the ingredients we needed right in front of us, so as our teacher demonstrated, we followed along, until the four of us in my group had four delicious looking papaya salads ready to eat. We were dismissed into a room with a long table for everyone to dine at, and slowly people from the other three groups started to join us. Fletch came with a hot batch of spring rolls, and we all feasted happily on our creations. Had we known we would be eating as we cooked, we would have skipped lunch.

Apparently that was the end of the day for the all day class, because for the next part of the class, Fletch and I were the only two students left. We went to a table where all the ingredients were laid out for our individual curry pastes, panang for me, and green for Fletch, and the girl who had led us from our hotel proceeded to teach us both curries at once. She was a funny person, but talked a mile a minute, and when we were taking too long to do something, she did it for us. We asked her to slow down so we could remember and she informed us we would be receiving a cook book at the end of the class, so we let her continue on at her humorously quick pace. She led us through the curry paste, then the curry, then our main dishes (fried cashew for me and pad thai for Fletch) at a race of a speed until we were sitting in front of a delicious looking meal.



We went back to the hotel, leftovers in tow and bellies full, and spent several lazy moments browsing Facebook. Some friends we had made in Koh Tao had posted something and underneath the post, their location showed up as being in Chiang Mai. Excitedly we messaged them and it turned out their place was visible from our window. We convinced them to come on the night safari with us and they were on our doorstep not too long after that.

After our happy reunion and exchange of hugs and stories, the lobby phoned our room to let us know that our pickup was there for the night safari. So once again we made our way down to the reception, this time to find a Chinese man waiting for us with a van full of Chinese tourists. Our guide assured us that it was an "international" tour. One of the people on our bus was a little girl, maybe five years old, who told very elaborate and animated stories, though I couldn't understand any of them because they were in Chinese. She made friends with Fletch though and before too long, couldn't be separated from him.

Our guide was a little fellow who liked to wave his arms around exasperatedly when he couldn't get his whole group to stick together. He'd tell us to wait, go and pick up our tickets or whatever activity guides must carry out, then return and get excited and start waving his arms around to try and herd everyone back together. We went on the first safari, and rode around that section of the zoo on a safari train, whilst shining strobe lights on various sleeping (or not sleeping) animals. There were baskets of carrots available for purchase which you could feed to deer and other animals that would approach the cars. We were reminded repeatedly not to feed the zebras though. Next was the light show, and all the ladyboys dressed up in animal prints and danced. We ditched that though when we saw there was a room where we could hold a baby white tiger.

I won't get into the ethics of keeping wild animals in cages for the sake of tourists amusement here, and instead will just stick to how cute this little tiger was. Looking into his bright blue eyes you couldn't see anything but beauty. Fletch and I held him in our lap, long enough for a guy with a camera to snap a shot. His fur was silky soft and his paws were gigantic. He purred and made biscuits and drank from a bottle. A moment later we were being shoed away.


Our guide was waving his arms trying to gather everyone back together, and he led us to the tiger show, where nine full grown tigers were trained like circus animals to do tricks. The little Chinese girl who had made friends with Fletch asked her mom if she could sit by him, which was entirely too adorable. So she sat between us and I watched her cute little face watch the show and tried not to wonder how you train wild animals to perform tricks.

After the tiger show was another safari ride where we rode around on a train through the half of the zoo we hadn't previously visited. We fed carrots to more deer, and even fed m&ms to a couple of them. Our guide had an especially hard time keeping everyone together after the last ride when everyone had to use the bathroom. Taking a break didn't seem to factor into his very tight schedule for us.

The van dropped the four of us back at our hotel, and we agreed to meet back up in five minutes at 7-Eleven. Fletch and I ran back to the room and devoured what was left from our cooking class, then made our way down the street to 7-Eleven, purchased a beer and a wine cooler, and proceeded to sit on the curb outside like a couple of homeless people because there wasn't a bench like the good 7-Elevens. Sean and Jess returned and we walked to the night bazaar and browsed the stands. There was a shiny new ice cream truck selling the prettiest ice cream bars decorated with bows and butterflies and flowers. They were too pretty to pass up so we bought a couple and devoured every sugary, mouthwatering bite while Sean and Jess ate dinner.


We left when the booths at the night bazaar began packing up for the night, and entertained the idea of going out drinking. As we walked back towards the hotel though, not a single bar was open, so we said goodnight and turned in.