Hot Pot Heaven
Chiang Mai, Thailand – October 9, 2017
At 5am we woke up to some creepy sounding ritual chanting… but it wasn’t people chanting aloud, it was recorded with voices and gongs playing over a loudspeaker. I got out of bed to see who was causing the commotion and the canned music was coming from the thick of a dark bamboo forest… NOPE!! We tried to take a shower, but the heater wasn’t working (not to mention the shower head was directly over the toilet, so you were literally showering while standing over a toilet, the toilet ended up covered in water by the end, and the shower water drained around to the back of the toilet… so gross). Then we realized the electricity was shut off and our phones hadn’t charged at all over night, so cool… freezing shower, dead phones, and creepy chanting keeping us up from 5-9am. People said it was all for Buddha Day, which I get, and I totally respect Buddha and his/her teachings… he’s a cool guy, but also if I paid for a bed (and I’m not Buddhist), I feel as if I should have access to a quiet place to sleep, a warm shower, a charged phone, and electricity. Very strange idea of hospitality.
We ate at our favorite little breakfast shop before booking our bus back to Chiang Mai. I wanted to go as early as possible so I could hit up the Apple store once back in a bigger city, but turns out there’s no Genius Bar in Thailand. My phone decided to download the 11.0 update without my approval, and now my phone won’t stop turning on and off uncontrollably. Apple-chat said I need to find a laptop to re-download the software and then download it onto my phone, but someone tried to download it on their MacBook and it said it would take 4 days to download, so that’s not feasible. You’d think they’d make a device where you don’t need a computer in order to fix your Apple phone… but apparently they don’t know that a lot of people are using their phones as computers in this day and age. It charges to 100% and then dies within one hour because turning on and off constantly really strains the battery. Also…. I’ll have a really hard taking pictures during the rest of my trip if I don’t get it fixed!! That’s the biggest heart break… 🙁
Before our bus ride, we rented a taxi to go see the only thing we missed while in Pai—the Bamboo Bridge. After a 30 minute drive, we arrived at the unguarded gate and stepped out onto the raised pathway. Thin strips of flattened bamboo were woven in threes to make a stable pathway that zigzagged over the rice paddies. Little purple butterflies contrasted the bright yellow flowers that peaked above the plush tufts of rice. Workers stood knee deep, digging the ripened grains and a man and woman carried huge stacks of bamboo to replace broken areas on the bridge. They hammered the woven strips so they were closer together, and then added new green and yellow shoots to the existing browning bamboo. Several little wooden shacks rose on stilts out in the fields and some shacks canopied the bamboo walkway for workers to rest away from the sun.
A few baby monks (the little guys are my absolute favorite… so cutie!!) cloaked in orange robes walked along the rice path. We noticed their heads and eyebrows were missing, leaving only faint tan-lines where they used to be. I guess all monks have to shave their body hair once a month… and Buddha day was the day. People without eyebrows look so funny!! We made our way off the prairie and booked it back to town to pick up our laundry before catching the bus back south. Laundry service is around 40 baht per kilo and they usually iron and fold your clothes for this price. When packing, we noticed that all of our clothes were tagged with a little colored stitch of yarn (mine red, my friend’s green), probably to keep the owners separated while throwing everything into the same batch. Each pair of undies was even stitched and tied into a perfect little folded knot.
It must have rained a lot in Chiang Mai as the roads were completely full of water and traffic was crazy. We took a red truck taxi to our hostel on the south side of town (near the airport for easy departure tomorrow). He drove us to the wrong hostel on the wrong street at first, but in the process, we drove by a packed restaurant full of all local-looking people eating out of huge pots in the middle of their tables—Hot pot!! I’ve heard about hot pot for a while, but haven’t been able to find it until now, so thank god the driver accidentally took the wrong street so we’d see this place! Immediately after checking in, we walked back to the place and grabbed the only open seats in the house, outside in the open courtyard. It happened to be an “all you can eat” hot pot place, and three waiters had to try to explain everything to us since none of them spoke or understood English very well.
They placed a large partitioned pot to boil on a burner in front of us. One side contained a super salty/spicy brown broth and the other side contained a lemony herbal broth for us to cook with (I watched as the locals seemed to put seafood into the lemony one and other meats into the salty/spicy one). We loaded our baskets with fresh morning glory, full heads of bok choy, baby corns, long thin clusters of tiny mushrooms, other weird fungi families, and two types of glass noodles. There was all sorts of meats on the buffet, including fish and seafood, but we weren’t really feelin’ the fish. They brought us trays with ultra-thin specialty-cut meats to cook, and these were definitely the best. We copied locals as they took the thin cuts, whisked them in raw egg, and dropped them in the boiling broth.
The servers came around with two huge metal kettles, refilling the broth on each side of the pot. At one point, our broth kept spewing over (and it’s HOT) so the workers came and checked on us. They ladled the broth on both sides and sifted to the bottom to find incredible amounts of goo that the glass noodles had turned into. They all came over and started laughing at our mistake (who knew there was an art to hot-pot?!) as they fished out our gelatinous noodles. They thought is was absolutely hilarious as they kept cooing to other servers about our issue. It was definitely a “locals” spot, so I’m sure they’d never seen anyone not know how to hot-pot before! They were so sweet and gentle as they tried to help us, but they seemed to think it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen. I’m glad we could provide them with some good entertainment because MY GOD this was by far my favorite meal of the trip.
Alena Horowitz | Miss Potato