Chiang Mai in a Flash
Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand and it’s small. The city is littered with temples and tourists and to be quite honest if you’ve seen the temples in Bangkok these are not impressive. From here there are day trips to go see elephants or tigers whichever you choose with varying levels animal care. Personally I didn’t feel right having a tiger drugged to the point of unconsciousness so I could pose for a picture next to it. I also wasn’t willing to get in a cage with a sober tiger so I avoided it altogether.
Within the old city walls you can walk every street within a few hours and every major site in town within a day if you try. Near the north gate there is a small food market and that is where the eponymous cowboy hat lady is. She’s well known in the area and packed every night. At peak hours you will wait for a table on the side walk. The dish is simple: braised pork leg, rice, hard-boiled egg,and braising liquid. The sauce has a viscosity to it and subtle sweetness with a predominant flavor of Chinese five-spice. It’s good.
This was by far my favorite dish in Chiang Mai – khao soi. It was at a small open-air restaurant also on the north side. Coconut based broth with crispy and traditional noodles and your choice of pork, chicken or beef. I tried them all and chicken was my favorite although I believe the broth is the same regardless of the meat choice.
After asking around and trying more than a few plates of pad thai I found these ladies. They are a little east of town maybe a 30-40 minute walk and only serve pad thai. There is nobody else around them and when I was there they only had two small tables to sit at. Although they didn’t speak English an older gentleman at my table who had been returning there for years, let me know they had been cooking there for 50 years and it always had been only pad thai. That’s dedication, and it showed. Anyone could easily eat two if not more of these so it’s easy going if you’re eating around.
In northern Thailand there are differences in the food. Subtle as they may be, there is a little seafood, less chili, less sugar and the occasional appearance of some sichuan peppercorns or other Chinese influence. Bar in far, what I’ve noticed most is that many of the food vendors have minimal equipment and they don’t just ‘make do’, they excel.