How do you put the most incredible week of your life into words? How do you condense it into 20 pictures or less? I’m never at a loss for words — not when I’ve got my virtual pen to paper. But here I am…
I suppose I could start by writing about the food… Easy Thai Coconut Curry Noodles (Khao Soi) was one of our first meals on that side of the Pacific and easily one of my top two for the week. I craved it for the duration of our vacation, but was determined not to eat the same thing twice. Now that I’m home, I’m Americanizing and easifying it and adding it to the regular dinner rotation.
And that’s really all I want to say about Khao Soi. You need to eat it and I’ve made it easy.
What I really want to talk about is Thailand.
The magic was definitely in the spontaneity of it all. And how, even though we had zero plans, The Universe lined up every day, every activity, and every moment perfectly. We had no idea what we were doing, where we were going, what anyone was saying, and still we had the time of our lives. Or maybe because of this we had the time of our lives.
I bought a ticket on October 20th (and am so thankful that Katy, my freelancing rockstar friend, is up for anything) and hopped a flight to Bangkok on November 12th. In the those three weeks, the only thing we booked was an immediate flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (an increase in air travel from 20 to 21 hours) and a hostel for two nights.
Now, we didn’t entirely fly blind. We sought some advice and did some research. We had lots of vague ideas about what we were going to accomplish in six full days. At the top of my list was riding an elephant. I realllly wanted to ride an elephant. Like, really really. I thought it would be life-changing. The quintessential Thailand activity that would make or break the trip.
So we started with that.
Can I just say, that elephant is MUCH BIGGER THAN SHE LOOKS. Here we are on flat ground toward the end of our ride, but it began with a trek up a narrow mountain trail and if I had fallen sideways off that thing, I would have tumbled down a mountain to my death.
I went into it thinking, “I’d love to get a picture standing on top of an elephant.” No way, no how. Let me just shake that idea right out of you right now before you go trying to one-up me. That stuff is for acrobats.
In a way, anything that is challenging and scary and outside of your comfort zone is life-changing. Riding elephants, feeding them, bathing them, bonding with this animal who is 25 times the size of you (Yes! Think about it!) and can suck a whole banana up her nostril in a split second — I was awestruck. How magnificent she is and how small I am. And yet, how dependent she is and how essential I am.
In the afternoon we made krathongs or floating lanterns for the Loy Krathong Festival of Light. With the rest of Thailand, we floated our krathongs down the river that night to carry away our sorrows and bad luck.
If you know me at all, you know I was super into it. The entire country of Thailand honors a day to release sorrows, to make wishes, and to expel bad luck. Now, I don’t have a hard life. I know this. But there have been professional and emotional ups and downs in the past year — I am only human after all. This whole trip was about hitting the reset button, so how serendipitous and cathartic it was to participate in Loy Krathong on our first full day in Thailand.
On the same night, we were blessed by a Buddhist monk and released sky lanterns to symbolize moving from darkness into a bright future.
Is this real life? See what I mean? The Universe… she was looking out for us.
The next morning, we rented a couple of motorbikes and got outta town. This was my favorite day.
We planned to ride our motorbikes about 90 minutes into the mountains to visit Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls. Most Americans would probably get a taxi (they are super cheap, even round trip to the waterfalls!), but we are not Most Americans. I was determined to do it the non-American way.
Here is how we got there:
- Finding our bike “legs” on a major highway
- A dangerous first U-turn on said highway
- Directions from a hospital parking lot security guard
- A single, broken roadside pump in front of someone’s residence
- Help from said resident (non-English speaking)
- Two tickets on the way out of town for not having International Driving Licenses
- Finally, almost 90 minutes of weaving in and out of cars and flying 80 kilometers per hour (when Katy would let me), then breathing in mountain air and seizing the open road
- A faulty engine (we were so close)
- A nature pee (my first ever)
- And non-English speaking monks with roadside assistance for the win!
And finally, here we are. Just, you know, climbing up and down waterfalls like no big deal.
Despite all of our troubles, we still managed to arrive before bus loads of tourists. We sat at the top of the falls for a long time, in the quiet, letting butterflies land on us, sunbathing (or sunburning), soaking everything in.
We were in Thailand. In the mountains. In the middle of nowhere, as far as we knew. 12 time zones from home. A half a world away and without any plans. We arrived by ourselves, but also with the help of so many native Thai people along the way. And we laughed. It was the most peaceful I’ve maybe ever been.
On the way home, we stopped at this tiny little mountain town market and ate food that some woman probably prepared in her backyard. She didn’t speak English, but she made a face when we pointed to only one dish to share between two (Those Americans), but we left her a tip. It was delicious.
And that friends, brings us to the end of Chiang Mai. There are so many little details, little bits that make me smile, but to write everything would be to write a book. Some things you just have to keep for yourself.
Make Khao Soi today and stay tuned for more Thai food and Thai stories in the coming weeks. Scroll down for more pictures of Chiang Mai.
Easy Thai Coconut Curry Noodles (Khao Soi)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 shallot thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 2-3 tablespoons red curry paste depending on spice preferences
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 red bell pepper thinly sliced
- 4 chicken drumsticks
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 4-6 ounces egg noodles
- To garnish: chopped scallions fresh cilantro, lime wedges
Place a large saucepan or wok over medium heat. Add oil, garlic, shallot, and ginger and stir-fry about 1 minute. Add curry paste and stir-fry another 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add coconut milk, chicken broth, sugar, fish sauce, and bell pepper and stir to combine. Add chicken. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Simmer uncovered about 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and tender.
Taste and adjust flavor with fish sauce (salty) and/or sugar (sweet).
Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to package directions. Drain and divide noodles among 2 bowls. Divide chicken and soup evenly. Garnish each bowl with scallions, cilantro, and lime wedges.