Cute little fella, innee? He's got little velcro dots sewn into his hands, so that you can wrap his arms around your neck, and let him "hold on" and dangle there for a while. He also makes a horrible screeching monkey noise, if you squeeze him hard enough — this will be sure to induce plenty of headaches upon all who hear it. Picked the monkey up in Khao San Road today, although there is (naturally) nothing Thai about him — but a quick snip of the 'ol label, and nobody ever need know his humble "made in China" origins. As well as being a cuddly teddy, I believe this monkey would also serve well as a long-hanging wall decoration.
This evening's colourful introduction to cosy Pai was a visit to the town's night market. Marie, Claire and myself went exploring the street or two that comprises the market: primarily to grab a bite to eat (actually, we grabbed several), but also just to peruse. The food is definitely one of the market's highlights: although some of the dinner-food isn't so crash hot (my "omelette and rice" dinner was rather ordinary), the snacks are incredible. The shmontses are arrayed in abundance: some of them quite amusing, althogh most of them just regular hippie junk. The highlight of the market, however, is the nightly dance show: a large group of young local Thai girls perform an elegant traditional routine, garbed in their finest silks; while their friends accompany them with flutes and violins.
This was yet another savoury street snack that Marie, Claire and myself sampled at the Pai night market this evening. These pancakes are made primarily from ground corn and from coconut milk, with a bit of rice thrown in for good measure. Unlike the grilled rice pancakes, they're quite petite, and are generally sold by the dozen or half-dozen. There was a long wait for them this evening — despite the fact that they were cooking them in batches of about 100 — but our patience was well rewarded.
Grilled rice pancake was one of the many delicious, fresh-cooked street snacks that I discovered at the Pai night market this evening. Its appearance is not so appetising: it's black and flat and slimy, and it looks not unlike what I imagine a female uterus would appear like (when grilled). But don't be deterred by this: the pancake is sweet and chewy, and it's divine. Best eaten fresh off the coals, in no more than 5 bites and gulps.
Tonight I finally got around to visiting the largest and the most famous of Chiang Mai's markets, the city's Night Bazaar. The market runs every evening from around 6pm-12am, and it stretches along a broad avenue for about 5 blocks. It's an incredible experience: the market is filled with endless food, endless souvenirs, endless clothing, and... well, endless everything! I arrived there a bit late this evening (11pm), and the cheap eats in particular were largely closed by that time; but I still managed to find some places where I could grab a bite. I'll have to return to this market another night, and to explore its many and varied colourful stalls a bit earlier.
After the cooking class (and the enormous lunch that came with it), a few of us went over to Chiang Mai's Sunday market, which takes place just on the edge of the old city, in a long plaza just next to the canal. The Sunday market is a nice little tourist affair, but it's not very big and its variety is limited: just a few shmontses and shmutters, really. Lots of ornate bags and sashes, lots of bulk-produced little wood carvings, and lots of artwork and jewellery. Also some good fresh juice stalls, which my bottomless stomach still had room for, even after lunch.
It's been a while since I last took a cooking class on this trip; but today, the great tradition was finally revived. And revived Thai style, no less. This morning I was picked up from my new guesthouse (Yourhouse — better than the original dump that I stayed in), and taken to meet my 10 fellow classmates for today's lesson. The cooking school that I signed up with is run by two brothers: I was picked up by one brother; but he's taking a break today, and the lesson was conducted by his bigger, funnier second brother. We commenced with an eyebrow-raising tour of one of Chiang Mai's food markets, and then drove over to the school's private kitchen for the main event.
My first purchase from the sprawling markets of Khao San Road, this evening, was a new backpack. Jack Wolfskin — high-quality German brand — and of course, this being Thailand, 100% genuine and original :P. For 400B (about $15), not a bad deal either. The plan is to leave my enormous bulky backpack (along with all my unneeded warm clothes and other accessories) in storage, here in Bangkok; and to travel around Thailand with this much smaller and lighter pack instead. 'Coz let's face it: you really don't need much when you're romping around in Thailand.
Like many a backpacker before me, my introduction to Thailand this evening came in the form of Bangkok's (in)famous tourist strip, Khao San Road. Khao San is quite literally a tourist mecca: in all my far and wide travels on this trip, I've never seen anything that comes even remotely close to matching the sheer density of tourists, tourist-hasslers, and tourist-related services that packs this one little area. The streets are thronged with farangs (lit: "foreigners" — I'll be using that word a lot, so get used to it!) from every corner of the globe. The buildings lining the sidewalks provide everything your average tourist could ever want, from guesthouses to cheap Internet, from tattoos to Pad Thai, from bars to travel agencies, and from laundry joints to Chabad house.
I was walking through the Christmas market in Salzburg this afternoon, with Lisa, when I couldn't help but notice some dried figs for sale in a stall. This wouldn't have been such a noteworthy moment, were it not for a little fact that Lisa explained to me earlier today: the word "fig" (with different spelling?) is apparently quite a rude word in German. If you tell someone you want a "fig" in Germany, then you will supposedly receive a stinging slap on the face. Anyway, they weren't labelled "figs", they were labelled with the equivalent German word "feigen": but hey, that sounds like a few other things in English, doesn't it now? Clearly, the fig is simply a dirty fruit, no matter what language you name it in.