Kin k̄ĥāw (กินข้าว) : Nothern Thai Specialities
Northern Thai cuisine is quite different from the rest of the country. Some of them are influenced by neighboring Laos and Burma. In addition there are also ethnic hill tribe cuisines.
This is Gaeng Kae Gai, a combination of local green vegetables and chicken curry. Kinda similar to Or Lam, a Laos specialty from Luang Prabang.
Had this at the Night Bazaar & Food Court in Chiang Rai, complete with cultural dance entertainment.
Karen Pumpkin Curry is another example of northern curry that uses more fresh herbs and chilli peppers rather than thick curry paste and coconut milk.
Apparently the Karen people love to cook with pumpkins, this is from the River House Restaurant in Mae Sariang.
The Shan people from Burma are also a prominent minority here, you could find many restaurants offering Shan cuisine.
This is Shan Herb Chicken from Fern Restaurant in Mae Hong Son.
A refreshing lime juice at the Salween River Restaurant & Bar, a Shan Cuisine specialist in Mae Hong Son.
I’ve had my share of papadoms at indian restaurants but I’ve never tried Shan Papadoms until I got here. It has a more fishy taste and thicker, scrumptious with the special dip.
This is Chicken Casserole, Shan style. A little too tomatoey for my taste.
They do make an effort for the ambiance :)
This is another version of the Shan Herb Chicken from the Seven Elephants Restaurant, Soppong.
Of course you eat almost everything here with k̄ĥāw (rice). Every dish here is serve in the traditional Thai Caladon ceramic ware.
Shan meat balls. Whether it’s Italian, Chinese, Turkish or Shan, meat balls are the best!
Shan pad thai. A more exotic version from the rest of the country.
Rice noodles with bean sprouts, tofu, peppers and meat.
Probably the most famous Northern Thai cuisine is the Khao Soi. Noodles with a spicy coconut milk broth mix that resembles curry. Shallots and other vegetables together with lime are also provided to your taste.
At the NorthWest Restaurant, Pai.
There are two types of noodles in this dish, boiled and fried egg noodles.
There is a saying that you have not truly visited Chiang Mai until you have had your Khao Soi. Khao Soi from De Naga Restaurant, Chiang Mai.
I really like the flat noodles with the fried egg noodles here.
Chiang Mai is also famous for their sausages like the Sai Ua. This is the Chiang Mai Platter with nam phrik at De Naga.
Not to be left out, Sukhothai also has its own special dish, the Sukhothai Noodle.
The rice noodle used is called the Khanon Chin.
Kinda resembles the Vietnamese Pho, it is a blend of chicken or crispy pork, peanuts, coriander and peppers in a clear broth.
Sukhothai noodle is delicious, cheap and can be found all over town.
Last but not least is a very Laos or Isaan style dish called stir-fried morning glory.
The collection of Northern Thai cuisine is truly an extension of the well known delicious Thai cuisine that the everyone loves.
Thailand Redux: Sukhothai (สุโขทัย) Part 3
The Western Zone of ancient Sukhothai is today known as the Aranyik, which means the forest. Naturally this is a less restored and less crowded area. The terrain is also much hilly and more foliage allowing a nice hike to the ruins here.
Wat Chedi Ngam
Wat Khao Phra Bat Noi
Wat Tham Hip Lang
Wat Chedi Ngam
Wat Tham Hip Bon
Wat Mahakaset & Wat Tuk & Wat Si Thon
From the Western Zone, I went back to Sukhothai town for some lunch before exploring the Southern Zone. If your are exploring more than the Central Zone you need a bicycle or strong legs.
Entering the Southern Zone. There are less ruins here but pretty interesting nevertheless.
Wat Kon Laeng
Best of the Southern Zone!
Wat Chedi Si Hong
I do prefer Sukhothai over Ayutthaya mostly because it’s less crowded and less traffic in Sukhothai. However Ayutthaya has more mega monuments. Bottom-line I love both of them and would recommend them to all you hardcore ancient ruins enthusiasts.
Thailand Redux: Sukhothai (สุโขทัย) Part 2
Heading north towards the North Zone, there are many small monuments such as Ta Pha Daeng Shrine and Wat Sorasak.
Near the elephant chedi of Wat Sorasak is Wat Son Khao.
The design and style is pretty common around the historical park.
There are two impressive temple ruins in the North Zone. One of them is Wat Phra Phai Luang.
This Khmer temple complex located outside the historical city walls is surrounded by a moat. Most obvious attraction is of course the lotus prang (spire), biggest and tallest in the area.
It is believed that during the Khmer domination, this was the center of Sukhothai.
The other star of the North Zone is of course Wat Si Chum.
This impressive mondop (prayer hall) houses a huge 15 meter seated Buddha. I love how the image peeks out even from a far.
“This Buddha’s elegant, tapered fingers are much photographed.” - Lonely Planet Thailand. I can’t resist either, Amazing!
After the North zone, I entered the West Zone via Wat Saphan Hin. The West Zone is the ‘wild zone’ where the terrain is hilly and covered with more vegetation.
To reach the ruins of this Wat, you’ll have to climb up a 200 meter hill. The name of the Wat means “Stone Bridge” referring to the causeway like stone path leading up to the temple.
On top of the hill, the temple has an image of a 12.5 meter standing Buddha. Besides that you’ll be able to get a panoramic view of the historical plain. I am sure in a better lighting it can look more impressive.
Up next, more of the West Zone.
Thailand Redux: Sukhothai
As the ancient Khmer Empire declined, the Tai people began to unite, it was the dawn of a new beginning, it was the Dawn of Happiness. This was exactly what the Thai people named their first kingdom, Sukhothai.
Although the Kingdom only lasted for more than a hundred years, its influence has lasted till today.
The Sukhothai Historical Park serves as a reminder to the splendor and greatness of the Kingdom’s capital.
The Park is 70 square kilometers and is divided into four zones Central, North, East, South and West. The Central Zones is the ancient capital’s walled city and is considered to have the best restoration work.
The must see is of course Wat Mahathat. It is said to be the most important building in the city, possibly the main temple for royals and the office of the Prime Minister.
Also impressive is the Sukhothai Buddha and the pillars of the hall that once housed the Buddha.
Best time to visit - at dawn or at dusk. I personally prefer the sunset.
There are also many lotus ponds located near the monuments.
Chedis and spires.
These architecture style would later influence successive Thai Kingdoms.
Sukhothai is considered part of the Northern Thailand.
But it is not Lanna.
As it was once part of the Khmer Empire (the builders of Angkor), the influence here is very prominent. A clear example is the Wat Si Wai.
Featuring the three Prangs.
Very Cambodian indeed.
The Prangs or spires are inspired by the lotus buds.
There are also smaller monuments such as this one, Wat Tra Phang Ngoen.
Opposite this wat is another temple on an island.
Another Khmer influence would be the presence of reservoirs or artificial lakes.
Wat Sa Si is a mid size temple that is completely surrounded by water.
Have to cross the bridge to get to it.
This statue is the image of King Ramkhamhaeng who is much revered by the Thai people and is known to be the founder of the Thai script. Leaving the Central Zone for the Northern Zone you’ll pass the Ta Pha Daeng Shire and the Wat Sorasak elephant chedi.
Up next, the North Zone….
Kin k̄ĥāw (กินข้าว) : Western and Fusion Food Thai Style
You don’t have to consume Thai food all the time in Thailand, no matter how delicious they may be. There is a vast varieties of western or at least the fusion version of it easily available. I mean even Asians or Thai people don’t eat Asian food everyday!
The most common form of western food in Thailand is of course the breakfast. Scramble eggs, toast with butter & marmalade, pathetic vegetables to pass as salad and of course a good cuppa coffee. They are either complimentary to your room or cost around 800 - 150 bath.
Classic example below from the River House Restaurant in Mae Sariang
Rather than pathetic salad I really much prefer a local fruit platter such as the breakfast at the Seven Elephants Cafe, Soppong River Inn. Fresh bananas, mangoes and watermelon.
Freshly ground coffee.
The usual western breakfast suspect. To be honest its much heartier than a bowl of noodles (shhhh…)
Was kinda bored with scramble eggs, so I ordered this waffle with fruits and yogurt at Charcoa Restaurant, Chiang Mai. This comes with a cup of orange juice and a great cup of coffee, of course. You gotta eat healthy while you’re traveling (well as often as you can).
Charcoa Restaurant also serves western lunch and dinner such as this fish & chips which sadly does not taste that good. Still a great cafe restaurant though.
This fusion food below I really like! Grilled chicken in tamarind sauce with chips and vegetables. TipTop Restaurant, Chiang Mai.
A fusion gone wrong would come next in the form of fusilli pasta in tom yam kung soup. Two strong cusisine that didn’t mix too well for me at the Black Canyon Cafe, Chiang Mai.
Italian cuisine should be “pure” like this Hawaiian Pizza LOL. This was from a really nice French owned pizza place Da Mamma Restaurant, Soi Kasem San 1, Bangkok.
Of course Thailand can make a mean cup of mocha anytime! @ Chacoa Cafe
Whether you are home sick or sick of Thai food or just a pizza eating traveller, Thailand can surely accommodate your taste buds.
Thailand Redux: Point of Wat ?! - Chiang Mai (เชียงใหม่)
In Chiang Mai, I stayed at the Trigong Residence in the old city. A really superb place to stay however not many songthaew or tuk-tuk drivers know where it is. So I just got off the van from Pai at the Arcade Bus Station, head towards a songthaew driver and asked whether he knows the place. I tried to pronounce the street name as best I could, I showed him the street name in Thai writings, I opened up my Lonely Planet to show him the map and guess what he still doesn’t know where it is!!!
Now this not a scam, it just a fact that Thai addresses are usually useless. The solution to this is to tell your driver a point of reference ie. a Wat or Temple of reference. So in my case the nearest temple to my hotel is Wat Chiang Man, when I told the driver that, he immediately knew where it is and problem solved!!!
In Chiang Mai it’s all about the beautiful Wats, here are the Top 4 temples in Chiang Mai as recommended by Lonely Planet Thailand. Let’s start off with Wat Chiang Man, it’s not just the temple nearest to where I was staying but it is also the oldest Buddhist temples in the city.
Like many temples in Northern Thailand and neighboring Laos, you’ll notice the low sweeping roofs with ornate carvings and colored glass decorations on its facade.
The main draw to this Wat is of course the Elephant Chedi. They are so lifelike as if real elephants are actually supporting the gilded top of the pagoda!
Here’s the Elephant Chedi bathe in the sunset glow.
The grandest of all temples in Chiang Mai goes to Wat Phra Singh.
Now a Wat is actually a temple compound and every Wat will usually contain a Wihan: the big prayer hall, a Chedi or pagoda and an Ubosoth: the holy ordination room.
A prestigious Wat like this would also contain a Tripitaka: special library building for holy scriptures.
Apsara figure decorations also adorn many parts of the buildings.
Wat Phra Singh was especially spectacular at twilight.
I especially like this pic I took of the Ubosoth with the Chedis behind.
If you have the time do try to see this temple in daylight and at sunset.
The next temple is the Wat Chedi Luang. This is not just a Wat but also includes a temple to the City Pillar.
It is a must see because it has the ruins of the original temple built in the 14th century, at that time the largest building ever constructed in Lanna Kingdom.
Sadly it was damaged by wars and finally left in ruins after an earthquake.
Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang are all located within the moats of the old city. The last temple is the Wat Doi Suthep located on top of a mountain outside the city. You can reach the top by using a cable car but what’s the fun in that, best to do it by climbing more than 300 steps with two giant nagas next to you.
This is probably one of the most beautiful Wats I’ve ever seen in Thailand.
The Chedi just glows and pulls you attention towards it.
Bells are also another symbol of this Wat. You can buy them at the stores at the base of the mountain. Hang them for good luck or as wind-chimes.
You can also get a panoramic view of the city from here but the Wat is still the best feature.
Legend has it that a Lanna King sent a sacred white elephant to locate a site to build this temple. The elephant stopped here, trumpeted 3 times and died here. Sad but it was taken as an auspicious sign.
I also like the ornate bell towers located at all corners of the Wihan.
See I told you bells are the in thing here. I had a cuppa at this cafe while many people just rang the rows of bells over and over again, needless to say I didn’t stay long…
Although these temple are not the megalithic temples in Bangkok nevertheless I am still impressed by the ones here in Chinag Mai. They are very charming, ornately decorated and has an intimate feel to them. There is a 5th temple recommended, ie. them Bamboo Monastery but I was all wat-out….. Definitely saving it for my next visit.
Entrance fees : Free!
Artistic and architectural delight, combined with the invocation of spiritual calm: Priceless
Thailand Redux: A slice of Pai (ปาย)
From Soppong I made my way to Pai. This (once) one main street town is a major tourist trap. It had started out as a hippy heaven and is today a hippy wannabe heaven, retaining its druggy charm with suspicious looking herbs and mushrooms offered. An overzealous crack down on these items by the Thai authorities have made the sale underground but still quite easily available to tourist.
Originally I did not want to stop here but my accommodation at Soppong was fully booked. Nevertheless I found Pai to have a few activities for those clean-living, say-no-to-drugs boring people as well.
Pai is surrounded by beautiful mountains thus making it a great place to walk and hike. From Pai I took a motorbike taxi (130 Baht return) to my last and final KMT (Chinese Nationalist) village call Santicorn.
From the village center I made my way up to the lookout point.
Crossing farms and tea plantations.
With beautiful views of the mountain range.
It was an easy walk with tared and cement roads with the occasional farm dirt paths.
At the lookout point there is a tea house with an entrance fee.
I came back down to enjoy the fanfare of the village center which includes a manual ferris wheel.
This KMT village seems a bit more dolled-up compare to the others I have visited.
It has mud houses,canals and even a man-made lake with a little pavilion.
Very pretty even though its not that authentic.
You can even get a pony ride around the ‘lake’.
Yunanese food and Chinese tea are also sold here.
I found a back exit from the village center to the real Chinese village
Mostly residential houses with pretty gardens and lanterns hanging everywhere.
At the end of the day, I ended up liking Pai. Minus the hippy wannabes, suspicious herbs and tourist learning to ride bikes….. Yeah it’s a typical pretty little town among the mountains in Northern Thailand.
The night market is one of the liveliest next to Chiang Mai’s.
Other than that it’s just a nice town to sit back and relax sipping coffee in a cafe watching the world go by.
The bus station is very near Wat Klang and buses and vans leave for both Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai directions (which is my next destination).
And yes bring plastic bags or pills or ginger whatever, the ride is very twisty going back to Chiang Mai. I also found that riding shot-gun (next to driver) reduces the impact. Nevertheless be prepared, this includes hearing and smelling your fellow passenger vomiting.
Thailand Redux: Soppong (สบป่อง)
The market village of Soppong is not remarkable by itself however it’s quite an off the beaten path destination. I could have sipped coffee the whole day at my hotel overlooking the Lang River, watching the clear water rushing down stream, crashing onto the pinkish gorge…
Of course I didn’t, Soppong is famous for the caves around the village! The one that I went to was Tham Lot.
At Tham Lot, you get to explore the cave and also do bamboo rafting. You do however have to hire a Shan lady with a lamp to guide you through the cave system.
Inside the limestone cave, the stalagmites and stalactites were mega impressive.
Some even managed to fused together to form cave pillars.
My Shan lady with the lamp is proficient enough to tell me how some of them were shape like animals, ogres, Buddha and much more… she’s so funny.
There are no lighting in the cave system at all except for the lamp thus giving an air of mystic
Interestingly I even got to see formation of new stalagmites.
We took the bamboo raft till the other end of the cave system, feels like a new world. In the water there were loads of fishes that look so delicious but I was told they’re really expensive… Since Tham Lot was settled thousand of years ago there are also cave paintings, well I saw a cave painting.
Second chance to spot the cave man painting. I guess the creepiest part of the cave was the doll cave!
We visited a total of 3 cave halls in the system by bamboo raft of course.
My favorite was the coffin cave. I am not goth or anything like that but I found it so fascinating that something from thousands of years could still be seen today.
These coffins are made from teak wood and are believed to be remnants of the ancient Lawa people. Bits of pottery are also found here but it’s a pity we don’t get to see the actual remains in the coffins…
More fascinating limestone pillars and hey that’s my ‘ferry man’.
And yes the river that runs through the cave is the same Lang River crashing onto the pinkish gorge…
Lady with the lamp 150 baht, ferry man 400 baht, ancient cave experience priceless. The whole enterprise is community based and profits are shored among the nearby Shan village. Tham Lot is about 30 mins’ by motorbike taxi from Soppong village center and will cost bout 90 baht return.
Soppong is only bout 2 hours from Mae Hong Son and you can get here by bus or van service. I took the van service that cost bout 250 baht. There are so many more caves to explore in this are. Do stay at the Soppong River Inn!
Thailand Redux: In & Around Mae Hong Son (แม่ฮ่องสอน)
The crown to the Land of the Three Mists is the town of Mae Hong Son, the provincial capital. Ideally situated among the tall mountains with a picturesque lake, it surely is a top contender for the most beautiful town in Thailand.
On arrival my first destination was the Wat Chong Klang and Wat Chong Kham, two of the most prominent temples located on the shores of the lake. Both are crafted from teak wood in the Shan palacial and Burmese style.
It was a real pleasure taking a stroll around the lake and at night it turns into a night market!
The next day I took a day tour around Mae Hong Son from the Sunflower Cafe. Together with a very beautiful and interesant French mademoiselle it cost 800 baht per person. The first stop was a Lisu village, with our guide we even met the village head!
I really like how the roofs of hill tribe houses are made from leaves from a special tree. I was told that it will last for 2 to 3 years!
Next stop was a big Hmong village with a huge town hall.
We were really lucky to visit on that day as it was the Hmong New Year. It was party time and how can the Hmongs resist playing the boules (Fenchy sport) on such a day.
The Hmongs were out in all their traditional garbs with cultural performances like traditional dances and Hmong rock?!
Since there were loads of tiny bells on their costumes the whole village was chiming!
Moving on, we got to what would be my second KMT (Chinese Nationalist) Village in Nothern Thailand. This is one’s call Mae Aw, also settled by Yunanese who were defeated by the Communist.
Like any Chinese village in Thailand they have switched from Opium to Tea!
The village is located on a lake providing a pristine natural setting.
To end the day, we got to arguably one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Thailand, the Phasua Falls.
This really pretty waterfall is located in the Phasua Forest Reserve and is easily reached by car.
The next day before I left Mae Hong Son, there was just one more thing to do…
Climb to the highest point of the town, Doi Khong Mu!
The climb up was not too bad, with even staircases and took bout 45 mins’ to an hour.
The view over Mae Hong Son was stunning. I can now really understand why they call it the Land of the Three Mists (well sorta…)
On top of Doi Khong Mu is the Wat Phrathat Doi Khong Mu.
This is another much revered temple in the Shan Burmese style.
I very much enjoyed my time in Mae Hong Son. Before coming here I’ve read it was a tourist trap but I found it to be really relaxed and not overly swamped with tourist. Actually I found that the town’s people were more out and about compare to the tourist!
I got to Mae Hong Son from Mae Sariang, took bout 3.5 hours and cost less than 300 baht (non-air con bus). There is also an airport in Mae Hong Son with flights from Chiang Mai. Probably a good idea for those that get motion sickness as there are 1864 curves on the road to Mae Hong Son!