Monday, October 19, 2015

Sunday Evening "Walking Market" in Chiang Mai and Feet

I was looking forward to the big Sunday market in the Old City.  I was a bit dismayed then, when it started pouring just before I was planning to leave.  No worries, though, the rain stopped, the sun came back out and the air was hot and heavy as I walked to the market.

I was determined to not buy anything.  Several reasons for that.  Wanting to save money, of course.  Plus, very little room in my luggage, since I only brought my roll aboard with me for a month of travel.  And, I'm heading out this week for three weeks in Vietnam.  I suspect I'll have more chances to shop there.

In any case, here are  photos of the walking market and the area.

Air conditioning is a beautiful thing on a hot, humid afternoon.

The lady who sold me these banana chips was wearing a Mickey Mouse apron.  I commented on it and she explained her son had brought it back from Disney Tokyo.  He also brought back the bags she uses for the bananas.

Indoor, air conditioned spa where I got the best foot massage I've ever had.  Ever.

No privacy if you get a Thai massage.

The spirit house in front of my hotel.  Someone explained that if you provide offerings in the spirit house, spirits will be drawn there instead of going inside the real house and bothering the residents.

Main road along the moat at Tha Pae Gate.

Shopping, food, music and live entertainment.

A bit hard to see in this photo but that's a large tree sculpture which is lit up at night.

This lady gave me a great foot massage at the market.

At any given moment there were at least a dozen of us getting some type of massage.

Who can resist a cute baby?  I'm assuming these proud folks are the grandparents.

This photo doesn't capture how crowded the market became.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

2 Weeks, 4 Hotels in Thailand

Hard to believe it's been just over two weeks since leaving Mandalay.  I started in Bangkok, at The Key Hotel, near Sukhumvit/Asok.  I've stayed there before.  Nice hotel, great location and a familiar neighborhood.

After a week, I changed to the Chatachuk area, across town.  I stayed at the Plim Place, another nice hotel and only about $20.  The room was huge, very clean and while far from the BTS stop, it was near shopping and restaurants.  I moved because two of my favorite people from Mandalay were staying there that weekend.  It was perfect - sort of like being neighbors back in Mandalay, with amenities.

Next I flew north to Chiang Mai, where I spent several days (most of them rainy) in another huge hotel room.  Prestige Chiang Mai Residence is new and while outside the old city center, was a great place to stay.  And, at $25 a night, another bargain.

Today, I moved to the Villa de Chiang Mai.  It is a 3 minute walk (if you're a gazelle) from the Thae Pae Gate into the old city.  It's also very near where I stayed when I visited Chiang Mai 12 years ago.  This hotel is very nice, but more expensive - about $36.  Still, location, location, location.

I Skyped with a friend this week.  She spent over a week in Italy recently.  The six weeks I'll spend in Thailand and Vietnam before coming home will cost about the same as her week in Italy.  Both are terrific options - just different in price.

I'm doing a mix of going for walks, eating street food, reading, watching marathon sessions of cooking shows, handling business via internet and just relaxing and thinking.  I'm still confident that I made the right choice.  I think it was best for everyone.  Everyone except my poor housesitters who thought they had months more of comfortable living and instead are scrambling to find another place to live.  I feel bad about that.

Here are some photos from Chiang Mai.
The fanciest presentation of mango and sticky rice I've ever had.  From a street vendor.  There was a little bit of puffed rice on top which added a nice crunchiness.

Villa de Chiang Mai - my latest hotel room.  At $36, this is high end.  It was also the smallest room so far.

Nice bathroom.

I was standing in the door of the hotel, facing toward a wat (Buddhist temple).  Wat did you say, Mary Lou?

Beautiful but I've seen enough wats, pagodas, etc. to last a lifetime.

On the other side of the alley was this door.
I was sitting inside this Italian restaurant.  I took a photo of the seat on the small porch because that's where I had my first dinner in Chiang Mai.  In 2003.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Local Market

Walking down the sidewalk past an apartment building, I noticed that people just leave their helmets on the fence when they park their motorcycles.  Imagine that kind of trust.

This appears to be a motorcycle adapted for a wheelchair.
Since I arrived in Chiang Mai it's been rainy and chilly.  That's fine with me since I'm in a large hotel room with huge windows and a deep soaking tub.  What an excellent excuse to hang out  and take care of some business on the internet.

I was disappointed with the availability of delicious, cheap Thai food, though.  In Bangkok, if you step out of a hotel you'll run into street food vendors.  I had seen none.  Shocking! 

Today, though, while still overcast and chilly, the rain held off most of the day so I went out to explore my neighborhood.

The neighborhood, between the new Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center and Chiang Mai University, is filled with apartments and hotels.  Surprisingly, given the number of people in the area, there seem to be few restaurants nearby.  There is a lot of traffic.

Happily, I found a small neighborhood market.  I found it with my nose, drawn by the smell of meat barbecuing.  The grill that drew me in had a variety of large pieces of meat.  I stuck with the leg/thigh quarter of chicken that looked perfectly done with a slightly sticky looking glaze.

I pointed at a cucumber and looked questioning.  The charming middle-aged woman who was manning the grill nodded enthusiastically.  I said "salad"?  She nodded harder.  She held up a small red chile, asking if one was ok.  I said two and held up two fingers.  Silly me, it's unlucky to use an even number of chilis, so she added three to the larger mortar where she was tossing in ingredients.  Peanuts, sugar, salt, cucumber, tomato, fresh herbs, lime juice and sprouts.  She added some fish sauce.  She tasted and added a bit more of this and that.  She tasted again.  Perfect balance.

A large chicken quarter and large salad was less than $3.

I strolled on down the street toward more food and produce vendors.  Half of a cut-up pineapple was about $.50.  A bag of dried banana chips was about a quarter.
A small market on a side street in suburban Chiang Mai.  

There were bright pink mushrooms and black mushrooms, the likes of which I've never seen.

And the small orange vegetable?  Looks like baby carrots but wasn't.  Hmmm.
Back in my room I discovered the food tasted as good as it looked and smelled.  I'm still surprised at the few dining options, given the density of housing in the area but at least I found a good spot.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Back to Chiang Mai

I've been lounging in Bangkok for the last 10 days.  It's been delightful.  I've spent a lot of time just hanging out with friends I taught with at AIS.  I'll miss them as they head off - either back to Myanmar or to the U.S.  The good news, we'll be reunited in December in Ohio, so it was easy to say "see you later".

I've been eating great food.  Yesterday was typical.  Grilled chicken and baby octopus from the street, along with some green mango (with salt, sugar, and ground chile for dipping) was delicious and cheap.  About $2 for a lot of flavor.  I found a recipe online that I'm going to try at home for grilled Thai chicken.  I'd love to be able to replicate it.

This morning I'm off to Chiang Mai.  The first time I came to SE Asia, years ago, it was to visit Chiang Mai.  I loved it then and am anxious to see how I feel when I return there.  During my first visit, my friend and I gawked and giggled when we saw a monk on a motorbike.  We loved the cooking class, learning about exotic ingredients like galangal and lemongrass.  We awed over the beauty of the wats.  And we shopped like mad women at the night market.

Now, I've lived and traveled in S.E. Asia for 2 1/2 years.  What was new and amazing then is routine now.  And Myanmar is more "authentic" in terms of culture.  There are still very few foreigners as compared to Chiang Mai which has a large expat community and lots of tourists.  I hope my expectations are set at the right level.

I'm looking forward to a city smaller than Bangkok.  Looking forward to Thai culture and food but with plenty of Western amenities.  Not planning to visit elephants or tigers but am looking forward to the orchid farm.

I'm mostly looking forward to more time for reflection, relaxation and just being in the present.  I'm not sure how long I'll be in Chiang Mai.  It could be a week or two.  Then back to Bangkok for a night and on to my 71st country, Vietnam.   At this point, only one date is firm.  I'll be boarding a flight from Bangkok to Orlando, via Guangzhou and New York on November 15, 2015.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Early Retirement

I had planned to continue teaching first grade in Mandalay until the beginning of June, 2016.  Then, retirement.  Instead, I've chosen to move the timetable forward. 

I won't go into details but it became clear that I would not be comfortable or positive in staying in my job at AIS.  The Head of School and I agreed that I would just leave for my scheduled visa run and not return.  Later, he informed me, via email, that he would retain half of my salary for the month.

Now, I'm in Bangkok.  Enjoying salad bars and Mexican food.  Also enjoying connecting with old and new friends.

Today, Saturday, I'm enjoying a rainy day in my hotel room.  So far, retirement is wonderful!