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animals, entrees, headaches, Thailand, travel

Promises and Pachydermal Proboscides

02.14.10 | 1 Comment

Throughout my few years of travel, I’ve learned a lot of interesting things: pineapples grow in the ground. Smile innocently at your waiter in Italy and you’ll get free drinks whether you wanted them or not. In the Costa Rican forest, that huge thing you think is a tree is technically a vine. Jaguars will pick off those who walk at the back of the line. In China meat is pork but chicken is not meat. And you could have bought that for half the price.

So what new things have I learned in Southeast Asia? The reason there are so many stray dogs in the temples in Chiang Mai is that people abandon them there knowing that the monks will take good care of the canines.

z_wcm dog2

People drink everything through a straw, including bottled water. Elephants like bananas. You can get better Mexican food in Chiang Mai than you can in Shanghai.

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I’m from Phoenix, Mexican food heaven, and I tell you, these tamales went beyond merely acceptable to actually pretty good.

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Chiang Mai is, in some ways, even more international than Shanghai. While there are far fewer people in the northern Thailand city, the percentage of foreigners (though they are transient tourists) is far, far higher. The dining scene is as diverse as the population.

One of the main attractions Chiang Mai has to offer is FOOD. A lot of the street food is pretty simple fried noodles, like this pad see lew, fried noodles with egg, vegetables, and chicken chunks:

z_pad see lew

It didn’t have a lot of flavor, but on each table in Thai restaurants are four condiment jars: dry chili pepper, vinegar and jalapenos, vinegar and red chili paste, and sugar, not to mention bottles of fish sauce. So anything blander is easy to jazz up.

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The best way to go is food stalls. I had no stomach issues at all. I highly recommend fried basil:

z_lunch fried basil

Chicken, basil, and chili peppers all fried together over a pillow of white rice. You can’t go wrong with Pad Thai, or you could go for perennial favorite papaya salad.

z_thaithai papaya salad

You could go for whole grilled eggs:

z_ff grilled eggs

Potato twirls dusted in cheese powder:

z_ff potato twirls2

Grilled bananas:

z_ff roasted bananas

Fish stuffed with…uh….

z_ff stuffed fish

Or anything fried.But if you really want fried, don’t just go for your everyday batter-dredged gunk. You have to find The Stand.

We found it by complete accident. In the middle of wat-seeing and a schlep from our hotel, my blood sugar was falling quick. We came upon an out-of-the-way, ordinary-seeming stand where a woman was selling fried: fried bananas, and fried sweet potato. I got the sweet potato; John got the banana.

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Revelation. Revelation. They should build a wat just to this and batter the whole thing in glitter. The batter was salty and spicy and a little sweet and very liberally applied. The whole thing was at least a centimeter thick. And crunchy.

z_fried heaven profile

I finished my bag really fast. And, being fried, it was very filling. So what did I do when I passed the stand again on my way back?

Bought another bag for later!

But I’m sure you’re thinking, “Surely ellis didn’t spend a whole week in Chiang Mai looking at wats and hastening heart disease.” And you are right, my friends.

Chiang Mai is a hub of adventure travel. Tour packages offer zip lining, jungle trekking, cycling, bungy jumping and more. John and I knew we wanted some adventure, so we paid 1700 baht (about $50 US) to go mountain biking, ride an elephant, and go whitewater rafting.

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After two hours in a van, we rode through the jungle from the bike station to the elephant camp, which came to a grand total of about 20 minutes. That was it?

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But I soon forgot and cycling dissatisfaction when I saw:

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ELEPHANTS!

They rank as my second-favorite animal after monkeys. ELEPHANTS. They are so CUTE! Those ears! Those trunks!

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They took a liking to John pretty fast.

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I was immediately enamored. It was hard to pull myself away. John was laughing at me.

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z_ellis elephant

Elephant riding is really popular in Thailand. I felt pretty guilty once we got on the elephant, though; I know these elephants are commonly mistreated and abused. How would you like carrying bipeds on your back in a 30-minutes trail loop while a man knees you behind your ears in and day out?

z_elephant ride

I wouldn’t either. I’m sorry elephant. I love you.

It’s actually a little frightening to ride an elephant; they’re such massive animals. Our elephant was rather stubborn and I was just waiting for it to buck up or fall over on the steep hill and crush my leg beneath its behemoth body. When the last thing your guide says to you is “If he falls, just hold on,” that’s kind of carte blanche for the imagination.

Luckily we survived and moved to our last activity of the day: white water rafting. Sadly it’s dry season now and the water levels were very low, so we kept getting stuck on the rocks.

In the van that day, I made friends with two Chinese women who are teachers in Guangzhou. They had just come from Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and they were going on and on about how 宏伟, awesome, Angkor Wat is. When I told them we still had a week in Thailand but didn’t know where to go, they enthusiastically encouraged us to instead go to Angkor Wat, assuring me that it was easy and cheap to take a bus.

We researched it later that night. John wasn’t thrilled by the nightmare stories we read about difficulties crossing the border. But I somehow managed to persuade him that we should go while we have the opportunity, and before I knew it, we were booking a hotel in Siem Reap.

This trip was about to get interesting.

So we bought tickets on an overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, to then catch a bus East to the border. The man who booked our train tickets eagerly informed us that his travel company also had a bus from Bangkok straight through to Siem Reap for 800 baht that left the train station at 7 AM.

“But our train gets in at 5:30 in the morning,” I said. “What if the train is late?”

“It’s not late. It’s downhill to Bangkok. It would only be late maybe 40 minutes. That train is never late.”

We all know what that means.

This trip was about to get really interesting.

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