We are in the city of Chiang Rai about 500 miles north of Bangkok and close to the borders of Laos and Burma. The city is a friendly melting pot of several cultures including Thai, Lana, Chinese, Lao and Burmese.
The province is known for its great natural beauty, trekking tours and the many hill tribe communities that are sprinkled throughout the region.
When we arrived on Tuesday, we got oriented to the textiles and crafts of the region by visiting the Hill Tribe Museum where we met Ati, who uses traditional methods of spinning and weaving to make beautiful fabrics, shawls, blankets and bags. She is so loyal to her craft, she hand rolls the tassels on blankets and uses only natural dyes.
We have had a few mediocre meals in Thailand in our search for street food that works for both of us (ok, the truth is that any street food works for Mags including roasted crickets). But we found the perfect sea food barbecue at the night market, where we sat with local Thais for a performance of cross-dressers doing Judy Garland-type numbers. Some of the other tourists were at a restaurant on the other side of the food stalls listening to Thai covers of Peter, Paul and Mary, so we knew we were in the right place.
Yesterday, we took an all-day tour with the NGO that operates the Hill Tribe Museum. The tour included stops at an Akha village where we saw a traditional dance and a demonstration of weaving and spinning, and walked through the tiny hillside community. We also saw an organic tea plantation, a temple (or “wat”) and visited an outdoor market in the hill town of Mae Salong.
Today, we signed up for a great cooking class that started with a tour of the local market. We enjoyed some amazing snacks, including donuts made with mung bean paste and rice flour, banana leaves stuffed with ginger, peanuts, coconut, chilis and dried shrimp, and cakes made without baking — it is too hot here! Mags found some really excellent curry pastes to take back to Spain (where they don’t sell curry paste) and we shopped with our hostess, Suwannee, for a four course meal.
In addition to learning about Thai foods and cooking, I bought two frogs at the market who would have otherwise been enjoyed by the monks at a later date. We released them into Suwannee’s pond to live out their natural lives with a turtle and five other frog friends.