|Arrived in Chiang Mai on Saturday morning after spending Friday night on the train from Ayutthaya. Found a cheap guesthouse as recommended in the bible (Lonely Planet book) and headed out to explore the second city of Thailand.
Went to a few more Wat (temples) but to be honest we're pretty sick of these now, you can only see so many Buddhas before they are start to look equally gold and large! Were both feeling pretty knackered so wandered along to the shopping centre for some westernisation - doughnuts and cinema! Before the film they showed a video of the King generally looking stately, and we all had to stand to pay our respects - they are so patriotic here. The other day we were just walking down the street when the national anthem came on and literally everyone stopped what they were doing, even the cars stopped! It was just like something out of Orwell's '1984'.
Went to the Night Bazaar afterwards but it was very touristy - there are a lot of holiday makers here. Had cheap street stall dinner though and saw a rather showy Muay Thai (Thai boxing) match.
On Sunday we went on a day trip to the very north of Thailand. We were picked up at 7am and taken to a hot spring first (not very exciting although we saw people boiling eggs in it!), then on to the Golden Triangle. This is where Thailand, Burma (Myanmar) and Laos meet at the Mekong River. We went on a longtail boat along to basically look at Burma, then we landed on an island which is technically Laos. It was a bit of a rip off to be honest as it was all there for the tourists to buy cheap cigarettes and tacky souvenirs - we had to pay 20 baht for the privelege of getting onto dry land and then spent way over the odds to send a postcard home each. But at least we made it to Laos in the end!
Had lunch at the Golden Triangle then went to the Thailand-Burma border to a small town which basically had nothing of merit except the border crossing where tourists pop across for half an hour so they can re-enter, and therefore extend their stay in, Thailand. Had a look at the border and took cheesy photos at the 'Northernmost Point in Thailand'. Also went to a factory shop here to see jade being extracted, polished and made into various things like Buddhas and elephants, was all a bit out of our price range though!
After this we started the four hour journey back to Chiang Mai via a couple of hill tribes. They weren't as authentic as the ones you have to hike to as they have roads and power lines, but still very interesting. They lived in wooden huts and made crafts, they are among the poorest people in the country and the children were selling bracelets for 10 baht, we all had our heart strings tugged by this and most people got back on the bus with at least one new bracelet! It was so wierd to turn up in their village, stare at them, take a few photos (they charged us 10 baht for a photo of them in traditional dress), then get back on the bus and drive off but I guess they make a lot better living now rich tourists come through and buy things several times a day, still felt a bit wrong though.
Arrived back here at about 8pm exhausted to find the noisy Sunday market going on right outside our guest house. It was the best market we've been to so far, aparently the locals shop here and everything was definately cheaper and more authentic. Had dinner from a couple of street sellers, very cheap and delicious, and bought some Thai silk - probably not real for the price we paid but still very nice!
Quiet day yesterday as both feeling exhausted! Today we have been on a Thai cooking course which was excellent. Picked up at 9am and taken to the local market. The girl teaching the course explained all the ingredients we would be using - lots of different vegetables and spices we had never seen before, very interesting. Then we were driven to their house which is a fully equipped kitchen, all the ingredients were laid out for us in the right quantities and all washing up done for us! We cooked loads of dishes: spring rolls, pad thai, chicken in basil, green chicken curry, tom yum soup, sweet and sour vegetables and papaya salad. We got to eat everything we made so it was excellent value for 8 pounds each! We also made a dessert, banana in coconut cream and tasted some Asian fruits including some things we have seen in various markets but not known were fruits!
Now waiting for our overnight bus (train getting too expensive) back to Bangkok, travelling to Cambodia on Thursday.