A bunch of us Lopburi interns decided that after our strenuous 3-hour long working week, we deserved a weekend getaway to Chiang Mai. Mode of transport: overnight train. It seemed like a good decision at the time, even if the train wasn't actually a sleeper train, rather one with slightly reclining seats. All part of the fun really. So we got to Lopburi train station with our western punctuality, wondering what the man on the loudspeaker was announcing in Thai. Every good travel adventure starts of with some kind of mishap, so it turned out our train had been delayed. It kept getting delayed by 15 minute intervals. Oh it's exciting wondering how long 15 minutes is in Thai time. The train rocked up about an hour late, and we all popped on. We sat in our seats, getting ourselves acquainted with the train bugs (like miniature cockroaches) and the sleepy Thais we'd been placed next to. But the train didn't move. With the combined effort of exaggerated hand gestures, simple English and loud speaking, we were able to work out that there was some kind of accident, and the train was blocked. When are we leaving? Soon. Good, that was the answer I wanted. We departed maybe about 3 hours after we were scheduled to? So upsetting, because that was cutting in on my special train-sleeping time. I won't sugar coat it, the seats were awful. They were made of kitchen flooring or something, and I'd keep sliding off it, making any attempt at sleep futile, despite having drugged myself with drowsy-antihistamines. I was the first girl to investigate the bathroom situation, went into one and discovered it was a hole-in-the-floor, and the floor was already all wet. I vowed then and there to not intake any liquids whatsoever. I later found out that the cubicle on the other side was western. But, it was still splashed with urine so it was in all essence, still a squat-toilet. And then the horn. We were in the front carriage, so were treated to the dulcet tones of the continuous train horn. Yes, I understand that you need to warn the crazy night time drivers that you're-a-comin'-round-the-bound, but what asshole can't see those football-stadium-sized headlights? So unnecessary. Sleep was minimal, and the drowsy tablet just made me feel like a drunk baby, so I was a bundle of energy and joy when we arrived in Chiang Mai in the morning.
After a briefish stop at our guest house to scrub off the horrors of the night train, it was time to ignore our exhaustion and see some of Chiang Mai. 14 of us were at this particular guest house, and most of us headed off to find this temple just outside of Chiang Mai called Doi Suthep. Some intense group haggling later, we found a "taxi" driver who would take us all in his "taxi" (one of those ute-type vehicles with the bench seats, I think they're called songtaews, but it's more fun to use "taxi" with quotation marks, just to work on a different level of pretentiousness). The drive was long and windy, and some of us began to feel a bit guilty about bartering with the poor driver for the low low price. Others just felt a bit car sick. We got to the temple and assured that our driver would wait for us by not paying him. We walked up a million stairs (we later found out there was a funicular. So many missed funicular pun opportunities) to the temple, paid the tourist price and wandered about admiring endless statues of Buddha (that guy is everywhere) and some kids performing some Thai dance and playing some Thai music. We were right up in the mountains, so had a clear (that's a lie, there was cloud and/or smog) view of Chiang Mai. When we'd all had enough of Buddha, we found our driver again (we'd used a rabid-looking dog as our landmark, which had surprisingly managed to get up and move somewhere else. That, or it had died while we were up at the temple and had already been scraped away) and headed back home. That afternoon most of the girls treated themselves to traditional Thai massage. I'm not including the word 'traditional' to sound like a wanker, it's just that word on the street is that if you don't include the word 'traditional' it means it's a Thai massage of a different, more sexual nature. I'm just not ready for that kind of cultural experience yet. So we had a traditional Thai massages to work out all the kinks we'd gained from the glorious overnight train. Then it was time to explore the night bazaar! Time to start practising those haggling skills. I'm a terrible haggler. The kind that will end up agreeing on a price more than what the vendor originally stated. Numbers both confuse and scare me. So I didn't really purchase anything that night, except for one magical item. Back in 2008, my sister Erin and I had come to Thailand and in Chiang Mai, we kept seeing these shirts that said "EAT MORE RICE BITCH". We thought they were absolutely hilarious, and seeing as we kept seeing them everywhere, decided we would buy them tomorrow, we'll buy them tomorrow. Of course, we never saw them again. That was until the other night, where I saw the shirt in the distance, stopped in my tracks and speed walked off from the group so I could work out a price for the shirts (two, because I had to get one for Erin). I didn't even want to barter, it was all for show. They expect you to do it, so I just made a feeble attempt, but I knew I was going to pay anything for those shirts. After agreeing on the price the vendor originally stated, I had my newest shirt and catchphrase. The rap single is due to drop in the next two months.
The rest of the gang decided to spend the Saturday doing a trek involving elephants and bamboo rafts and all sorts of fun get-in-the-mud kind of shit. But I'd been a bit ill over the last week, and had already done the elephant thing last time, so decided to have a Bridget day. I began with a little explore, and with a whole half hour of walking, I was ready for my feet to be massaged. I found a little place that was just opening, so opted for a foot massage, manicure/pedicure combo. The Thai massages are always a little bit rough, but I figure that's how we know that whatever they're doing is working. With the mani/pedis she ripped out all the dead skin bits from my cuticles. There was blood. But in true Thai style, she just looked at the blood, looked up at me and smiled and laughed. If laughing at other people's pain is a cultural thing in Thailand, I think I may just fit right in. Then the nail varnish seeped right into the freshly peeled cuticles. PAIN. She took a cheese-grater to my heels and had a good old go at making some Bridget-heel-parmesan. Delicious. And the foot massage was a little rougher than usual, with the punches being extra hard. I now have a large Thai-lady-fist-sized bruise on my lower leg. What kind of souvenir is that? After the 2-hour medieval torture session (alright, it wasn't that bad, but I really don't have many stories from the day, so I'm forced to exaggerate) I took Bridget for a little bit of shopping. I chose one particular stall because it was blaring Ricky Martin's 'Cup of Life' followed by the Vengaboys' 'Boom Boom Boom Boom' (twice). AND, no one was hassling me. I actually had to ask for help. That's the first time in Thailand that I've had the luxury of looking around at clothes hassle-free. I then had the wonderful experience of a trip to the pharmacy. I chose Boots because it's British, so I figured it'd probably be mandatory for all staff to understand English so I could avoid having to make any embarrassing gestures. I was wrong. The man was friendly, but after my grotesque charades performance, he called in an English-speaking pharmacist who was able to help me. Or maybe she was a psychiatrist. Either way, I bought some extortionately priced antibiotics and went on my merry way. After a leisurely lunch and some postcard writing/sending, I felt it was time to redeem the rough massage of the morning with a soothing oil massage. That was the best idea Bridget had all day. I then went back to meet the others and make the plan of attack for the evening.
There was soccer (sorry, football) on that interested the boys and some of the girls, so there was an excursion to a very American bar while the game was on. Because of the antibiotics, I refrained from the temptation of the SangSom buckets, and played the role of Sober Sally instead. After the game we busted a move to some kind of bar/club district nearby, and found a reggae bar with a live band. Alright! Despite having a near-altercation with an older white gentleman and his bride after he hit me in the shoulder for "being in his way", it was a really really fun night with the gang. I must've been drunk on the atmosphere or for just being in the presence of SangSom, there was much dancing and joy. Not nearly as much as one particular Thai lady who seemed to have a Beyonce-complex, jiggling away on a table. As the night progressed, I took advantage of the two people who wanted to leave and snuck away back to the guest house, with a trip via McDonald's. Just because you haven't been drinking, doesn't mean that you don't need the dirty Micky D at 3 in the morning. And I was curious to try this broccoli pie I had seen on the menu. I'm a little obsessed with the slight (or not so) variations on different countries' McDonald's menus. And I'm also a little obsessed with broccoli. So judging from the picture, it was the same shape as the apple pies and looked like the same outer shell (but I naively presumed the outer shell would be savoury) with innards of broccoli and mozzarella. How could it go wrong? The Thais must have shares in all kinds of sugar companies, because it is in everything. Even in the inner part of the broccoli pie. I don't want sugar ruining my broc & mozz! But I've now been inspired to make my own broccoli & mozzarella pies, one day.
For the last day in Chiang Mai, I decided to join Canadian Jocelyn on a one-day cooking course. I'd done one while I was in Chiang Mai last time, but loved it so much (and forgotten just about everything I had learned) so decided to do it again. Plus I needed an activity. As fun as it was, I didn't want another day of getting beaten up (and then paying for it!) by Thai ladies. We were picked up and first off taken on a little tour of a tiny market place. So much fun stuff, vegetables and herbs and other crazy unidentifiable shit. After "buying" our ingredients for the day (by that I mean, the tour guide had bought the stuff for us, and made us carry it in baskets) we set off for cooking school. You could choose all different meals to do throughout the day, and we did about 6 in total. And after you make it, you eat it. Sounds like a fair deal to me. First off was Pad Thai, which was blissfully delicious. Turns out I can be a good cook, when someone's shouting directions at me/putting in the ingredients that I don't have the spare hand to put in with myself. I was just about full after the first meal! Next was curry paste creation time. I chose to make panaeng curry, which is kind of like red curry but somehow different (you can tell the difference by the fact that one is called 'red' and the other 'panaeng'). After making the paste, we then made the curry, let that simmer while some magic helpers watched over them while we prepared our stir-fries. Chicken chilli basil was the next one, or Chicken Brazil as my Brazilian co-chef decided to dub it. I appreciate any kind of play on words, especially when they're made my attractive Brazilians. We then sat down and ate our curries and stir-fries together. With rice (eat more rice bitch). Stomach implosion. The next natural step was to make appetisers, so I learnt how to make spring rolls. And then turned out alright! I rolled them quite well, maybe I was a Cuban in a past life. We then had to eat those, and I barely ate one. Such a struggle. But I had to power on. The soup course was next, and this is where I discovered my new favourite Thai dish. Hot & Sour soup with prawn. So delicious. And easy to squeeze into an already full tummy. Dessert was last, and we didn't really contribute much to the creation process, just the eating (which, I'll admit, I'm more talented at), where I had the divine sticky rice (yes, more rice.... bitch) and mango. Such a full day. So we didn't really need to eat dinner that night, but met up with the gang and hung out at a rooftop bar while some ate, and then wandered around the Sunday walking street markets where some others ate, and I got my second (... or should that be 3rd....4th? 5th?) wind and had a banana wrapped in pancake, drizzled in chocolate sauce. And then lectured others about not eating enough rice, bitch.
The train back to Lopburi was a bit better, by the fact that I had a seat next to me spare. I was supposed to be next to Rachel, but her tray table was unable to be put back up, so she was relocated, and I had a Thai man next to me for the first hour of the trip trying to "fix" the table with some string and elbow grease. Together, after a lot of laughs (because that's the only language we shared), we managed to get the tray table secured for the rest of the trip, but I still had the two seats to myself, thus enabling me to sleep in the foetal position, hiding under my sarong. Not ideal, but better than the first trip. The bugs were back with a vengeance as well, this time they were crawling on my face and getting stuck on my recently-balmed lips. Yummy. So, in conclusion, not going to be getting the night train for a while. We now have two days off before we officially start teaching on Wednesday. Not sure how I'm going to cope with work. Last time I was employed was last August, and that was minimal bar work, so that barely counts. The Chiang Mai weekend was fantastic, so am already thinking ahead as to where (and when) we could explore next. If you've taken anything away from this blog entry, please let it be the eternally relevant advice of, EAT MORE RICE BITCH.