CHIANG MAI: NO HURRYING, NO DURIAN
I have to admit, when I arrived in Chiang Mai, my first thoughts were that my planned four nights here may turn out to be about three too many.
My basic guesthouse in the old city seemed to be in the middle of Backpacker Central and there were far too many white twenty some things with dreadlocks for me to feel entirely comfortable.
However, over the last couple of days, the relaxed atmosphere of this small city has really begun to grow on me and I suspect I shall be more sorry than I first anticipated to head off to Malaysia on Sunday.
There are, of course, elements of it I wont miss, particularly the hoards of bars offering western food to long term backpackers hungry for a taste of home and to the many ex-pats who retire here to eke out their pensions.
But, once you get away from the main strip of guesthouses, massage shops and travel agents, there is much to enjoy. It has Wats (temples) coming out the wazoo and you can’t move more than about 100m without bumping into Buddha.
It has fantastic street food with small stalls offering large plates of noodles and rice for about 80p an plate and, best of all, it has Warorot market, one of the most impressive food markets I have seen in all my travels to date. I came across it by accident yesterday when I saw a couple of pig’s heads on a stall (always a good sign) and then spent the next two hours exploring the streets of the market looking at the incredible range of food on offer from the inevitable chillies to fish, every type of vegetable and even grubs. A great place.
The classic dish of the region is Khao Soy which originated in Burma but can now be found at just about every place serving food in the city.
A dish of noodles in coconut milk thickened soup served with chicken, pork, beef of pork balls, it comes topped with crispy noodles and accompanied by dishes of shallots, lime, chilli, sugar and fish sauce to change the tastes as you prefer.
I have tried it in a number of places. A simple version in a small restaurant called Hueng Phen, served it with side dishes of herb, crispy pork skin and a sharp,crisp mango salad which with a beer came to about £2.
Just Khao Soy, a smarter restaurant near Chiang Mai’s famous night market, may have been a bit optimistic in its professed aim to franchise the Khao Soy experience all over the globe, but it still served the best example I have tried in my time here. Proceeded by an appetizer plate of Thai sausage, steamed vegetables and pork skin served with two types of chilli mixes, the Khao Soy here came with freshly puffed up crispy noodles and a smart presentation of flavourings including slices of banana which the Thai’s like to use when they have overdone the hot stuff.
I have developed a bit of an addiction for this dish and can see myself having it a few more times in the next couple of days.
As for the Durian. You have to love a place where the hotels all bear signs barring entry to this stinkiest of fruit.
And, for good measure here is a picture of Chiang Mai's most treasured musical entertainer
Next stop Kuala Lumpur.