Maybe as you can tell from Kitty’s last post, of all the choices we were considering, we decided to combine as many objectives as possible: bring Kitty aboard, sail from Malaysia back to Phuket Thailand, where we are confident we could reach a boat yard if anything unexpected fails, and vacate Malaysia in time to keep immigration happy about the number of days left on our visa. This route will take us through beautiful, remote islands again, likely without internet.
To avoid yet another interruption of blog posts, I figure this will be a great time to catch you up on the remainder of our Thailand Land Tour we took in February. I never got around to writing about that trip because my gallbladder fiasco and Sonrisa’s refit threw me off my pace. You don’t want to miss these stories, though, because Thailand is a smorgasbord of sensory experience. My posts about Chiang Mai, Cooking School, the Elephants, the Non-Negotiable Shopping Excursion, and the Bosong Umbrella Festival were the tip of the iceberg of all that we tasted and saw. We still had a road trip, a train ride, an ancient city, and the bustling Bangkok, Chinese New Year, Muay Thai Boxing, and The Lady Boy Review left to explore. For me, Thailand is a beautiful challenge, you don't want to miss it.
So, here we go!
On our last night in Chiang Mai, Andrew began to get nervous. “What if we miss something important? I don’t feel like I’ve really sampled the most authentic of the Thai Foods. We’ve just enjoyed the same stuff we can get at Thai restaurants at home!”
“That’s because you didn’t eat the grasshopper.” I tell him. He scowls.
After having returned to the hotel for the evening, we relax on the neon green couch next to the authentic and ancient Siamese cat. Andrew is catching up on his Anthony Bourdain in Thailand episodes, and I am texting with my mother.
“ACK!" Andrew says in distress. Andrew turns his screen toward me. I see a beautiful Thai woman with red lipstick, a red T-shirt, and a white cowboy hat serving food in a Chiang Mai night market to a line of people that flows endlessly. “We almost missed this!”
“This show was years ago. Do you think she is even still there?"
"We have to find out.”
We gather our wits and head back out into the night to weave our way through still-bustling streets, cross the moat defending the old city, and search for our prize.
Like all of Asia, night markets dot the landscape of Chiang Mai with the frequency of gas stations in the US. We weave our way through several blocks littered with a tangle of food carts, propane tanks burning open flames, and diner’s legs splayed between plastic picnic tables that appear around 6:00 p.m., then fold up and disappear around midnight. We pass one, then two, to head to the third just outside the “Northern Phae Gate” according to the late, great Anthony Bourdain.
We can smell her food before we can see her. She is cloaked by a curtain of people drawn around her. Following our "adventure food spidey sense” we follow the masses of hungry bellies over to a food cart, growling with a generator and lit like a rock-star concert stage.
“It’s HER!” We settle into our place in line, and breathe deeply the aroma of bone-in slow roasting pork marinated in a secret blend of Thai spices that undoubtedly involve hot chili, palm sugar, and smoke. Her line flows faster than a McDonalds drive through. She greets the customer, takes their order (one portion or two?), then directs us to a table where her team offers to find you a beer from the drink cart, sets us up with a bowl of chili sauce, pickled cabbage, and full sprigs of green onion. A family of tourists from China, another set from Korea, and a honeymooning couple from Chicago share our table. Multilingual conversations are loud over the din of the generators, the hiss of propane, and the caucaphony of unmuffled TukTuks speeding past us on the road divided from us only by the layer of humanity still waiting in line. We have very little space to swing our arms for our usual game of foreign language chirades.
Then, a plate of rice piled high with shredded pork and it’s juices arrive before me. The server pantomimes instruction as to the proper proportions of chili sauce and pickled cabbage and the chomp-method of taking green onion with each bite of food. Andrew and I comply. We tap our bottles of cold Chiang beer together and dig in to experience one of the best tasting dishes of our entire lives.
Our. entire. lives.
And, as you already know, we eat a lot.
It absolutely was that good. This dish took what Thailand does better than anyone else on the planet and combined the five flavors of salty, sweet, spicy, sour, and umami, no one flavor taking over the other, but each one standing strong. I am in a shredded pork euphoria unmatched, unparalleled...unbelievable! And this from a food cart on the side of the road for the equivalent of $5.00 per person - after you pay for the beers.
Despite the fact that this is already dinner #2, we order a second plate for the equivalent of dinner #3 and scoot our plastic stools closer to our dining mates in order to squeeze another layer of friends onto the table.
The next morning, we cast off on our road trip through the mountain region of Thailand, packing Mr. Bourdain’s excellent advice into our suitcases:
“Just stop on the side of the road anywhere the mood strikes. You are likely to find cute little grandma selling a hot business of the most delicious food you’ve found anywhere.”
“I’ll bet you we can find a new food we’ve never eaten before every single day for the rest of our trip through Thailand. What do you bet?” I ask Andrew as we climb into the rental car and weave our way out of the city through a frenzy of cars, and speeding cement trucks, mopeds, food carts, women on bicycles towing flatbed bike trailers mounded high with flowers en route to the nearest temple. We keep a careful eye ahead to have ample warning before we run headlong over an errant Buddha statue overlapping its shopkeeper’s property line and into the road.
“That is a challenge I think I can accept,” Andrew says. And so, our road trip began.
To be continued….