This was going to be a long weekend due to one of the many Thai holidays, so I decided to head up north to check out the food scene and, for hopefully a little relaxation. I had tried some “northern food” in my home city of Bangkok but, felt it necessary to get out of town to experience the real thing. I travelled up to Chiang Mai (about a 1 hour flight), but got in late. It was raining, so I stayed in and did a little reading about northern Thailand in my guide book. There were a few places mentioned not too far north of Chiang Mai that looked interesting. In planning out the next few days, I decided to visit a few smaller cities and villages. I would start in Doi Inthanon, go to Pai next, and end at Doi Suthep with small adventures in between.
I woke early to a light misting rain and slightly overcast sky. The forecast predicted precipitation for the next few days but, decided to go up to the top of Doi Inthanon anyway and see what the tallest peak in Thailand was all about. Getting to the top was not as bad as I thought it might be. It was only a 20 minute drive from the base to an elevation of 2,565 m (8,415 ft). It’s small in comparison to other mountains in the range, as it’s technically the southernmost part of the Himalayas. Once I got to the top I felt a dramatic temperature drop from about 27°C (80°F) to about 6°C (43°F). It was the first time a chill ran through my body in a long time and it was very refreshing. I stood at the highest peak, took some photos, and then saw a shrine on top of the mountain where people were praying. I decided to give it closer inspection.
I prayed to Buddha, asking him to make the rain stop and give me good weather for safe travel the rest of this trip. I grabbed a cup of hot chocolate to warm up and had just started to head down the mountain when, the rain and mist stopped. The sun came out and the temperature began to climb. It appears Buddha heard my prayers and was looking out for me on this trip! As I trekked down the mountain there were a few waterfalls and some great view points of the countryside to take in.
Before continuing to my next stop in this journey, Pai, I first needed to dive in to some northern Thai cuisine. One of my coworkers had provided a recommendation and I knew it was the right right spot because I was the only Farang(Thai slang for Caucasian people) in the place.
I looked for items my research had identified as authentic northern dishes. I also asked for some help from the locals when ordering. One thing I have found is that at least one person in each food establishment can speak enough English to help me out with what food to eat.
Photo by Brian Brindza
With that information, I orderd some Khao Soi, which is a Thai chicken curry soup with egg noodles, topped with fried egg noodles. Next I got some Nam Prik Noom, a Thai green chilli paste that is used as a dip for roasted squash, streamed cabbage, crispy pork skins, cucumbers, long beans, and other item you might have on the table. I would compare it to a Mexican type of green salsa that is great on anything. It was amazing!
Next, I decided to partake in some of the many sausages they make, but two in particular stood out to me. The Sai Ooua and Naem were the ones I enjoyed the most. Sai Ooua is the Chiang Mai sausage made from pork and a light curry spice, then grilled on an open flame. The next one, Naem, was a bit more exotic. It’s a pickled pork sausage made with mostly skin, fat and little bits of meat. These were scary at first but grew on me as I ate them with my Chang beer.
Last but not least, I had one of the simplest yet most amazing foods that I have ever tasted. It’s seriously changed my life. It’s the Italian bread of Thailand, Khao Niew (sticky rice). Rolling it up and dipping it into the curries and sauces with your hand was the best part of the whole meal for me. I found myself to be a huge fan of northern cuisine and will be ordering it more often.
With a full belly I headed up to Pai. It was a “long” short trip, if that makes any sense. The road ahead was insane with crazy turns, ups, and downs. Route 1095 which connects Pai with Chiang Mai was only 50 km as the crow flies, but approximately 110 km by road with 762 curves between the two cities. After a few hours of trying to keep all of that delicious cuisine in my belly, the curves ended and opened into a beautiful valley with lush green fields and farms.
Photo by Brian Brindza
This place was like a scene from a movie. I checked into the hotel, dropped my bags and ran out of the door to start exploring. As the sun was setting I hit the main strip where people were selling goods and street food. I walked up and down grabbing a few bites from different places, trying things that were new to me. Once again, I found northern Thai food much to my liking. Finally, I settled down for a few drinks with a local artist and some backpacking hippie kids. They shared with me a few places to check out in Pai before I had to leave.
The next morning I awoke and went find the sites my new found friends had suggested. There were a few waterfalls to take and swimming areas to enjoy. And that is exactly what I did. After a long day of excursions, I headed back to Chiang Mai to get some rest and then make my way to Doi Suthep in the morning.
I got a very early start up Doi Suthep with plans to visit the temple and see some spectacular views of the city. It was a quick drive to the mountain top with beautiful scenery and steep cliff sides. However, once there I still had a long journey to see Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the temple at the peak. From the temple base visitors can climb 309 steps with huge dragons on each side reaching up to a pagoda. Along the way you can see many little Thai children dressed up in traditional northern clothing and taking pictures with people.
I’ve seen a few temples around Bangkok but nothing like this one. I took off my shoes and entered to see all of the people praying and making merit (link to Wikipedia article).
The center houses a huge golden stupa where religious relics were kept and where worshippers were praying. The courtyard was filled with many different images of Buddha. There were even some Hindu gods and symbols represented. The views down the mountain were amazing to say the least and this has to have been my favorite temple to visit so far. I snapped a few photos and then needed to head back down the mountain to start the trip home to Bangkok. It was a great weekend excursion and interesting how different the food and culture is between the north and south. Same country, but totally different tastes and sights. The whole trip felt culturally familiar to Bangkok yet still foreign enough to keep it interesting. I enjoyed the north and would recommend it to everyone!