It's been just over a week since we returned home from a two week adventure in Thailand. Thailand had been on our our travel wish list for a long time, so when we found reasonable airfare to Bangkok we jumped at the opportunity. We spent time in three different parts of the country: the southern islands, the northern city of Chiang Mai, and Bangkok. There was so much to see and learn, but per usual our number one priority was eating as much food as possible.
Lucky for us, the Thai people are passionate about food and it was available on street corners, in markets, and even at temples everywhere. We sampled everything we could, from eggplant curry at a roadside beach shack to meat skewers at the nighttime markets, and a spectacular 11-course tasting menu at Gaggan in Bangkok.
One of the best meals we ate during our trip was a bowl of Khao Soi, a Chiang Mai specialty that consists of a spicy curry coconut broth, pork or beef, soft rice noodles, and a topping of pickled greens, red onion, and crispy fried rice noodles. We ordered the dish at Khao Soi Khun Yai restaurant after hearing good things about it, and we were not at all disappointed! The broth was richly flavored, the meat was fall-apart tender, and the dish was so beautifully balanced: creamy, spicy, salty, crunchy, and soft. And it cost just 35 baht (just over $1 USD) per bowl!
My favorite experience during our trip was the day we spent at Elephant Nature Park, just outside of Chiang Mai. Elephant Nature Park rescues elephants from the tourism, entertainment, and logging industries and rehabilitates them. They don't allow elephant riding and they don't use bull hooks, which was the biggest draw for me (Nomadic Matt has a great post about the issues of elephant tourism and how Elephant Nature Park is helping). We spent a fantastic afternoon trekking through the hills with the elephants, feeding them bananas, and watching as they splashed around in the river. They are such beautiful animals, and it was incredible to interact with them up close! We took a break for lunch and were served with this gorgeous vegetarian feast of fresh veggies, lentils, curried potatoes, noodles, rice, and fruit. The best part was looking down on the park while we ate and watching the elephants play.
We ended up at Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak aka "The Lady in the Cowboy Hat", after seeing the place on Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown. This is a popular street food stall in Chiang Mai where you'll always find the proprietor dressed in a cowboy hat and wielding a cleaver -- she serves one dish, khao kha moo, or pork over rice. For 30 baht (~ $1), you get a plate of rice topped with pork and a soft boiled duck egg. There are a number of condiments on the table that you can use to customize your dish, like pickled mustard greens and chili oil. We saw a lot of people going back for seconds or thirds! They don't have a website, but you can always find them in the same spot: there is a food market that opens every evening just outside of the old city of Chiang Mai, across from the northern gate (Chang Phueak). You really can't miss her in that hat!
In case you're wondering, yes, there is plenty of good Pad Thai to be found in Thailand! I have to confess: I only ate it once on our last night there because I was so excited to try the dishes I had never heard of before. I'll post again soon about the great cooking class we took, and maybe try to recreate some of the dishes for you at home!