Cooking like a Thai and soaring through the trees

Every once in a while it feels good to forget where you are. Now, we are enjoying Asia a lot, but we do miss home sometimes. So we spent Wednesday at the mall! Breakfast was a short stop at the disappointing Bagel House ($4 for two coffees and an omelet) after which, we flagged down a songthaw to take us to Central World Airport Plaza ($2). We explored the shops, shared an almond croissant at Starbucks and had to try the Green Tea Red Bean Frappaccino ($7) that Felix had spotted weeks earlier, watched Iron Man 3 at the cinema,had sushi dinner ($9) and Auntie Anne’s pizza pretzel ($2.50) for dessert. It felt like we could have been anywhere all day, until we emerged at closing time and hopped another songthaw back to our hotel($1.30).

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Since we’re all about food, we definitely had to do a cooking class in Thailand. Thursday was dedicated to our third cooking class in as many countries, and we were excited to learn to make some of our favorite dishes. Ever since Jordan got Felix into Thai food back in LA, she’s wanted to learn to make Pad See Ew and Felix has had his eye on curries, specifically the Massaman curry he tried in Bangkok for the first time.

After researching the multitude of cooking schools in Chiang Mai, we chose Asia Scenic, and they picked us up at 8:30am at our hotel for our full-day class at the farm ($33 each). We stopped for about half an hour at their city location for a short intro and there, we selected the dishes we wanted to prepare. Each person chose between 3-4 options for each of 6 categories: soup, appetizer, noodles, curry paste, curry and dessert. After making our selections, which were written down by our instructor, Fon, we got into the school minivan along with the 3 other participants: a newlywed Australian couple and young Irishman. To our surprise. Fon hopped into the driver’s seat and whisked us away (it really felt like a school carpool) to the local market.

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We pulled up in front of Tesco Lotus Express (a large minimart), but then ducked in the alley behind it and found ourselves in a hidden local market. Smaller and calmer than many such markets we’ve seen, it was pleasant to view the offerings. Fon explained about different kinds of rice, noodles, curries, spices and tofu. We had a few minutes to wander around while the “housekeeper” (Fon’s assistant who accompanied the day) picked up a few more ingredients for our dishes, and we all piled back into the van for the 30 minute drive to the farm.

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Fon expertly turned us from the main road to a smaller road and finally on to a small lane. We arrived at a wooden fenced farm and got out by the cooking school complex. On one end of the property is an open-air kitchen with work stations surrounded by hammocks and a lake on one side. We donned traditional hats and went for a tour around the farm, passed an almost complete 5 million Baht ($170,000) villa that the school’s founder is building, and walked along the pathway. Fon pointed out kaffir lime, basil, chillies, snake beans, ginger and galangal, lemongrass, and more. We also had an up-close look at the rice paddies, a taste of some of the herbs, and a traditional veggie welcome snack.

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Back at our workstations, apron clad and hungry, we began to cook. We were excited that this was an eat as you cook type of class. First up was the appetizer: Jordan made Green Papaya Salad while Felix made Glass Noodle Salad. Both were delicious. Next up was the noodles: Jordan made her favorite Pad See Ew while Felix made the quintessential Pad Thai. Yum! We also go to sample some Burmese Egg Noodles compliments of the housekeeper, who luckily for us was observing a tradition of being temporarily vegetarian on the new-moon. Throughout the day, we helped Fon with her English, and discovered that words like “roll” are very hard for Thai people to pronounce. This led to many laughs, a friendship, and a great video. 🙂

After a short digestion break (love those hammocks), we got to work on the curry paste. With a mortar and pestle, we ground up spices, herbs and chillies for 20 minutes until we finally had our curry pastes: Jordan made a green curry while Felix made his favorite Massaman. Who knew making curry was this labor intensive? Tired from the grind, we rewarded ourselves with dessert, but first, we had to make it. Jordan went with Mango Sticky Rice which we set aside for the end of the meal. Felix made Fried Bananas, which looked so good we gobbled them up right away. Recharged, we got back to work on the curry, and as soon as it was ready we made the soups: Jordan made a Coconut Milk Soup, which came out surprisingly good, while Felix’s Tom Yum (a clear broth soup) was less exciting. Finally, we sat down to a nice late lunch and relaxed while stuffing our faces. Jordan’s Green Curry didn’t come out as good as she had hoped, but she’ll definitely try again at home. Felix was very proud of his Massaman curry and cleaned his plate. He hopes some of you will come over to enjoy it with him since Jordan is not a fan. The Mango Sticky Rice was a great finish to a wonderful ongoing meal.

Back in town, we relaxed at our hotel and ventured out again for a light dinner at Subway (Hannah – are you proud?), where we shared a footlong veggie patty sandwich on honey oat bread ($8.50 with a soda). We couldn’t resist the best Roti in town and doubled down on a duo of Banana Nutella and Condensed Milk ($1.66) while watching the amusing traditional show (which is the same every night).

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Ready for some breakfast and coffee, we ventured out Friday morning to a small local coffee shop (2 coffees and chocolate chip cookies – $4.50) where we sat and researched our next few destinations. Jordan had her eye on the some of the food at the market since the day before, so we went back to get some for Shabbat (pomelo, dragon fruit, mango, dried bananas, taro sticks, and candied peanuts – $3). Jordan enjoyed a fresh coconut there as well ($1.40). We found a cute restaurant near the market where we enjoyed a lunch of the best Pad See Ew we’ve had ($1.66) before we went back to our hotel get ready for Shabbat and Felix ran out to the post office as we had already accumulated more than we could fit in our bags for our upcoming flight.

Starting from sundown on Friday night, Shabbat was a repeat of the previous week except that this week, we met Miriam and Anshel, a young American couple from New York. It was refreshing to meet observant Jewish Americans and it was nice to speak English, hang out and share laughs and stories. We made plans to hang out again soon. After Shabbat, we walked over to the Saturday Night Walking Street where we enjoyed some Pad Thai for $1, browsed the various merchandise at the stalls and sat down to a half hour foot massage ($2 each and so worth it). Just as our massage was ending, we spotted Miriam and Anshel and continued the evening together. A little obsessed with tuktuks, Miriam and Anshel couldn’t wait to take one back and so all four of us piled in ($1.33 per couple and a priceless experience) and made plans to hang out again the next day before calling it a night.

After hearing how cool Flight of the Gibbon – the zipline experience – was, we decided we would go for it. We woke up on Sunday at 8:00am, and still half asleep called the Israeli 669 travel agent, who Miriam and Anshel recommended, and reserved our spots ($60 each at the special Israeli-only rate). By 9:30 we were at the agent’s office and by 10:00 we were on our way to the jungle in a minivan full of Israelis. When we arrived at the “Eco-village” we were greeted with Hebrew signs, waivers and a practically Hebrew-fluent staff of local Thai guides. We donned our harnesses and helmets and followed them up into the trees.

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Prepared with a short safety briefing (also in Hebrew), we went one by one, hanging by rolling carabiners, flying from tree to tree, and landing on platforms built high above the ground in the jungle canopy. Most of the time, we flew in a seated position, but as we gained confidence we let our hands go and let the adrenalin flow. One of the lines had a harness that hooked on from the back, and Felix really enjoyed watching the guide push the reluctant Jordan off the platform where she flew “Spider-Man style” into the receiving net 300 meters away. Super cool! Along the way we stopped for a water break and a short visit with a family of real gibbons who served as our inspiration for the day. Gibbons, we learned, are actually in the ape family and don’t have tails, just like us. The whole experience was super fun and exhilarating, and the guide’s great sense of humor (teasing “lo tov” [= no good] as they connected the harness) was icing on the cake. The view from the top gave us a different perspective than what we had seen so far, and we were sad to tandem-rappel down the huge tree at the end of the course. Lunch was provided (curry, omelet and Israeli salad) as was a short visit to a nearby waterfall, before the minivan returned us to town around 4:00pm.

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Ready for some relaxation, we met up with Miriam and Anshel at their hotel for a dip in the pool. We watched the sun set over the edge of the rooftop infinity pool (!) and hung out. We took break to shower and change, and met back up with our friends at the Sunday Night Waking street. A little calmer than the previous week’s market, we picked up a few more souvenirs and had a dinner of $1 Pad See Ew, $0.50 grilled corn-on-the-cob, $0.50 grilled sticky rice, coconut and fruit shake ($1.33 each) and two roti (one banana Nutella and one condensed milk, $2 total). As the stalls began to pack up around 11pm, we said good night and strolled back to our hotel.

Having really enjoyed our time in Chiang Mai we were a bit sad to leave, but we were ready for some R&R in the islands. Bring on the sunscreen (we learned our lesson) and some Piña Coladas! We packed up and flagged down a songthaw ($3.33) to the airport. The Bangkok Airways lounge at the airport provided a simple but welcome breakfast and the flight to Bangkok ($55 each) was smooth… but from there to Koh Samui… that’s another story…

Click here to view the photo journal (for photos from this post click Page 2).

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