Snapshots: Thai street food

So far on my travels, everyone I’ve met seems to have agreed on one thing: Thailand rocks street food. It’s cheap, it’s quick, it’s everywhere and it’s damn tasty. Here are some of the things I ate while in Thailand – I’m calling this format ‘snapshots’ and will use it for all forms of posts where the photos can do the talking…

Street food stalls

thailand street food

thailand street food

thailand street food

thailand street food

thailand street food

thailand street food

thailand street food

Noodles and rice

thailand street foodSukhothai noodle soup

thailand street foodChicken noodle soup with chicken blood jelly-thingy

thailand street foodVegetarian curries from my local in Chiang Mai

thailand street foodNot strictly street food, but rather mountain food – my lunch while trekking

thailand street foodTom yum soup

thai foodKhao soy

thai foodMango salad

Fruits

thailand street foodA typical street-food fruit vendor in Bangkok

thailand street foodDragon fruit or pink-fleshed pitaya

thailand street foodMangosteens

Sailing the Mekong to Laos on a slow boat

Taking the slow boat down the Mekong from Thailand to Luang Prabang is the preferred way for travellers to get into Laos. It takes about 16 hours spread over two days, but that’s two days you spend on a boat rather than on a bus or at airport customs. And so I left Thailand behind after nearly three weeks – including a full one spent in Chiang Mai – headed for Laos.

I chose to travel with an organised tour that left from Chiang Mai and first stopped in Chiang Rai for a quick visit of its White Temple, Wat Rong Khun.

white temple

A privately owned temple, it’s reknowned for its completely wacky exterior. This stuff looks like it’s straight out of Alice in Wonderland. It’s a huge space albeit with a small temple: the surrounding garden includes a pond, a bridge whose sides are intricately carved and topped with rather scary-looking statues, overlooking a pit of begging hands and skulls – all this all white and silver. It’s a sight that’s hard to do justice in words. It’s just mental, if I’m honest.

white temple chiang rai

white temple chiang rai

white temple chiang rai

I wasn’t able to take photos inside, but the walls of the temple are covered with a painting which I interpreted as representing God, heaven (praying Thais floating on lovely purple cloudy volutes) and hell: a fiery land that contained Kung Fu Panda, Michael Jackson, mobile phones, Pikachu, Neo from The Matrix, Elvis Presley and more… All evil things, I suppose.

Once again, mental.

white temple chiang rai

chiang khongA riverside house in Chiang Khong

After spending the night in the banal town of Chiang Khong, we headed to immigration. A $30 visa on arrival later, we boarded the slow boat and set off for seven hours on the Mekong. All I can really say about the river is that it’s got a strong current, is very brown and damn long.

slow boat mekong laos

slow boat mekong laos

slow boat mekong laos

slow boat mekong laos

slow boat mekong laos

The first night we spent in Pakbeng, a small town that seemed to pretty much live off the traffic it gets from the slow boats. Every other house on the main road was a guesthouse; every other one was a restaurant or little food shop. Like everywhere in Asia, it seems, there were plenty of people waiting for us on arrival to offer tuk-tuk rides, cheap rooms and the like. The like being weed and opium, this time: turns out Pakbeng is at the heart of a large drug-production area, with drugs being transported down the Mekong from Myanmar into Pakbeng to get to Laos and the rest of south-east Asia. How picturesque.

pakbeng‘Taste my wife’s cooking and you’ll understand why I married her’

We did survive the night (in spite of a late night encounter with a snake) and boarded back the second day. But it was a smaller, less comfortable boat for that second leg of the journey – logic, eh. It was long. Really long. And yet, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. The view of the Mekong’s banks, the surrounding hills and forests, the villages and fishermen is spectacular. Plus, two days of relative calm and doing nothing can be most welcome while travelling. It proved the perfect setting for me to finish reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for the millionth time.

slow boat mekong laos

slow boat mekong laos

slow boat mekong laos

slow boat mekong laos

slow boat mekong laos

Then we arrived in Luang Prabang and w o w. What a beauty of a town. More about it, its nearby waterfall and its sunset in the next post…

slow boat mekong laos

 

Doi Suthep and Mae Sa Waterfall

I haven’t been on the road that long, but I already love the unpredictability of it. I make very little plans, but whenever I do, something comes up and they change altogether. Like the day I had set aside to spend hours on my laptop catching up on blog posts and photo editing while I was in Chiang Mai.

But five minutes after I woke up, my friends said they were off to hire motorbikes to spend the day visiting the Doi Suthep mountain and a waterfall. Did I want to join?

Er, yes please.

Doi SuthepThe view from the ride up Doi Suthep

I’d been on a scooter/motorbike a grand total of once in my life before this trip, so it’s been great fun making the most of the Asian transportation of choice. I still haven’t had the audacity to drive one myself, but I’ve been lucky to make friends with really good riders – and I’ve been told I’m a great passenger. ‘You laugh a lot and you don’t get worried,’ said my friend Adrian after we’d almost crashed into our friends’ bike during a minute of inattention. (What else can I do? It’s not like I’m going to get off the bike and walk home…)

Doi Suthep

This mountain is situated west of Chiang Mai, and is one of the main tourist attractions in the area. All the red cars (the local ‘buses’ that you hail to negotiate a destination and price with the driver) make the trip there, but with the day-fee for a motorbike only 150BHT, it’s worth getting on two wheels. The view is superb on a sunny day; the route snakes along the mountain, with a few scenic viewpoints, and at the top is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep temple. It’s 300 steps to get from the entrance to the temple itself, and a few more to its grand golden chedi.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi SuthepRules to respect while visiting a temple: no shoes, proper dress, be quiet and respectful, and no PDA

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

After a bite of lunch in the most unsanitary place I’ve set food in Thailand so far – where our lunch was, er, running around cackling around us – we set our sight on Mae Sa waterfall. And 15 kilometres later…

Mae Sa waterfalls

Mae Sa waterfalls

Mae Sa waterfalls

The waterfall has no less than 10 levels – the hike up is about one-kilometre long, on moderately maintained trails that get pretty slippery (read: I fell again). It gets hot, it gets humid, the mosquitoes are huge but man, what a view. And the sound it makes!

Mae Sa waterfalls

Mae Sa waterfalls

Mae Sa waterfalls

Mae Sa waterfalls

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mae sa waterfallYours truly, Quechua sandals, sweat, grazed knees and all

Walking trek in the Thai jungle

A Belgium woman, a French woman, a Canadian man, two Austrians, two Spaniards and three Thais walk into the jungle.

The first Thai man says: ‘Let’s walk for four hours in the jungle.’

The second Thai man says: ‘It rained a lot yesterday so be careful not to slip.’

Plot twist! The Belgium woman doesn’t do anything silly but the French woman falls ALL OVER THE PLACE.

walking trek Chiang MaiThe gaffa tape held for about an hour then decided trekking wasn’t quite its thing

So I went for a walking trek in the jungle north of Chiang Mai. Fortunately, I managed to pick the one rain-free day that week, which made the trek much more pleasant. Unfortunately, it’d rained the day before, and a shoe malfunction (the sole separated from the shoe out of nowhere two days before – damn you, Quechua) meant my hike was akin to ice-skating. It was worth it for the sights, though…

walking trek Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang MaiOur little group vs big tree in the middle of the trail

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

The first half of the trek was one big slippery mess, on narrow mountain-side trails going way up and way down. It wasn’t the most reassuring experience but it was some well-needed exercise, and made us really keen to get into the waterfall for a swim…

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang MaiThe guy on the left was fixing the bridge while we were crossing… 

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

baby monkey Met this baby monkey at our lunch spot – BABY MONKEY!!!!!

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang MaiNa na na na na na Batman!

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

walking trek jungle Chiang Mai

After the bat cave, it was back to the city for a well-deserved shower and a giant bowl of curry. And more rain. Always more rain. Another month and a half of the rainy season ahead… (Although, I’ve now arrived in Laos and it’s been wonderfully sunny for three days, so who knows!)

Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai with Xie

It is a fact universally acknowledged that mums can cook damn well.

My mum is a champ. She makes a mean rabbit in mustard sauce, the best chicken and mimolette crumble in the world, and bread to die for. (My dad’s pretty great too, but my point here stands with mums.)

The best thing about mums is you can eat all the food they make for free. The second best thing? Learning from them. Which is just what Xie did. And then she opened a cooking school, Me & Mom Cooking School. Everybody together: aww!

cooking class chiang mai me and my mom cooking schoolXie in her kitchen

Xie started her cooking school three years ago. ‘I like when I teach people this and that, and then when I taste their food it tastes so good!’ she tells me as we’re driving to the market to pick up ingredients. ‘It makes me proud. I feel like I was successful.’ She goes on to say, though, that it’s often not spicy enough to her taste. She’s a 10-chilli kinda gal. I’m a more, er, restrained three-chilli-er.

At the market, she walks me around and teaches me lots about Thai food. Rice, for example. To me, rice comes in a packet and bears the Tesco own-brand logo. But Thais buy their rice at the fresh market, and it comes in lots of different baskets – and prices! One- or two-year-old rice is for eating, whereas older, darker and cheaper rice is preferred to feed animals. Sticky rice is a different matter altogether, and has to be steamed rather than boiled. And you can also buy broken rice, often used for rice soup or congee.

cooking class chiang mai

And that’s just rice.

Markets are my favourite place to go to understand a new place. Food markets tell you so much about a country’s culture and its people. Street markets are great to get a feel for local art, cheap food and, er, what tourists are after (coughfakesunglassescough). This one is definitely a popular spot with groups of Westerners on cooking classes, but Thais are also around picking up groceries. There are stalls packed high with sauces – fish sauce goes in soup, soy sauce in fried rice, dark soy is used for colour, tamarind sauce for pad thai. There’s buckets of curry paste in various colours, piles of dragonfruits and rambutans, bags of mushrooms, shallots and curry paste, pork skewers for breakfast, and meat aplenty.

cooking class chiang mai

cooking class chiang maiThai sauce roulette

cooking class chiang mai

cooking class chiang mai

cooking class chiang mai

cooking class chiang mai

cooking class chiang mai

cooking class chiang mai

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Then it’s back to the car and off to the outskirts of Chiang Mai, where the school is hosted in an annexe to Xie’s mum’s quiet, leafy house. There’s a garden full of the ingredients we’ll be using: kaffir limes, pandan, lemongrass, Thai basil, galangal and chillies amongst others.

cooking class chiang mai

When it’s time to step behind the stove, Xie tells me the basic: Thai food is sweet, sour and spicy. I’m making tom yum soup with shrimps, pad thai (my favourite), stir fried chicken with holy basil, vegetable green curry and mango with sticky rice. And aside from the slightly lengthy process of pounding the ingredients for the curry paste, it’s all pretty quick and easy. ‘That’s why Thai food is called fast food!’ Xie points out with a smile.

cooking class chiang mai green curry chicken holy basilFried chicken with holy basil and green curry

cooking class chiang mai tom yum soupTom yum soup with shrimps

cooking class chiang mai pad thaiPad thai

cooking class chiang mai‘Okay so how do I plate this so it’s Instagram-worthy’ is a thing I actually asked out loud

cooking class chiang mai mango sticky riceMango with sticky rice flavoured with butterfly pea tea. 

cooking class chiang mai

Xie was the nicest host and helped me learn how to cook delicious food – I really recommend you check out Me & Mom Cooking School if you find yourself in Chiang Mai. And if not, she was kind enough to let me share a recipe on the blog. I chose pad thai, because it’s damn delicious. Ready, steady… cook!

Pad thai, serves one

80 grams rice noodles (soak in cold water for 5-10 minutes)
1 cup bean sprouts
2 tbsp tofu, cut into small pieces (or small diced pieces of chicken and pork )
1 egg
1 tbsp of chopped pickled white raddish
1 tbsp chives (or spring onions)
2 tbsp oil
2 cloves chopped crushed garlic
1 tbsp dried shrimps (optional)

For the sauce:
1 tbsp of crushed roasted peanuts
1/3 cup juice of ripe tamarind (or 2 tsp white vinegar, mixed with 3 tbsp water )
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp fish sauce or soy sauce
1 pinch chilli powder
1 tsp thick soy sauce (or molasses)

Heat up the oil in the wok on medium heat. Fry tofu or meat until crunchy. Turn the heat down to low. Add garlic, pickled radish and dried shrimps. Add the egg and scramble. Next, add bean sprouts and chives. Stir until the vegetables are well done (one or two minutes).

Set aside and get the noodles in the wok. Add the sauce and turn the heat up to medium. Stir fry until the noodles are soft. Turn the heat up to high and add meat back in and stir fry thoroughly until well mixed. Enjoy!

Sukhothai in pictures

When visiting Thailand, all loops almost always include Bangkok and the northern city of Chiang Mai. But since it’s a 10-hour bus ride from one to the other, it’s frequent to stop halfway through to discover another place… And that’s how I ended up in Sukhothai.

The city was founded in the mid-13th century, and prospered as the Kingdom of Sukhothai under the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng. He introduced Buddhism, created the first Thai alphabet, and supported the arts. All that comes together really well at the Sukhothai Historical Park, one of the biggest historical sites in Thailand (and for sure a popular one with foreign and Thai tourists alike). The park being massive and made up of several zones, the best plan is to hire a bike and cycle around to discover the various ruins of temples and city walls.

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

The park contains a statue of King Ramkhamhaeng, and when I went to see it, one of the many, many groups of school kids out visiting that day happened to be sitting down on the steps for a picture. All the kids I saw that day would wave and say ‘hello!’ enthusiastically. I wish we’d been that adorable and welcoming when I was on school trips in Paris as a kid.

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Then at some point, the thunderstorm kicked in and nearly drowned me and my bike. Luckily we found refuge on the steps of a temple, where I sat with two Italian people and waited for the rain to stop.

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

Sukhothai

It’s worth spending a day in Sukhothai, if only to find out what is considered a huge touristic site in Thailand; and also to see a side of religion that does away with opulence and luxury, and shows its belief in a way that’s more artistically raw.

Sukhothai