Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hallalujah - Chiang Mai is Eden

It took awhile to get here. After the effects of cremation, a full day of air travel until 10 p.m. (a couple of time zones helped) I reached Eden.

My villa - coral.
Smack dab in the jungle in the mountains of Northern Thailand is a pueblo outside Chiang Mai called Mae Rim. There if you make enough turns under the palms, banana plants, tropical trees and shrubs lies Rangsit Villas. It's owned by a French lady named Pippa. There are two villas - one has only two suits (one called Coral the other Turquoise) and the other villa has three bedrooms. That's it. That's all need be. I was welcomed in my groggy coughing state with a lei of fresh jasmine flowers and a bowl of tropical fruit including rose apples which fall off a huge tree in the compound. There are small waterfalls, winding ponds with orange Koi fish, a lovely hammock guarded by an old German Shepherd, and, well, the food is a Thai gourmet's delight.

Breakfast view.
I could take a deep breath. My body says, yea, I know this heat and humidity. One sweats and doesn't know the difference when its drizzling rain. The shower is opened to the jungle and there are huge vats of rain water you can pour over your tired body for a resuscitation. It's basically a constant "wet", but this is the beginning of the monsoon which is alive and well in China, just across the border, so who cares?

Lotus in my room.
All meals are outside with breathtaking views through artistic touches. A huge plate of tropical fruit (papayas and mangos as they should taste, rose apples, leeches, bananas so fresh, looks like a quilt. Tea is a constant. And when he come back from an excursion there is iced lemon grass and lime tea. Sigh. A can't forget desert was cold coconut milk filled with green noodles and triangles of melon that look liked candy corn as the melon was green and orange. Why can't I make something like this?

Largest orchid.
We set out with a driver to Suanbua Maesa Orchid Farm. We were blessed because almost everything was in bloom, every kind of orchid, Cattelyas, Vandas, Palaenopsis, Mokara, Ascocedas, Thai orchids that look like wisteria called Rhyn gigantea, and including the largest orchid in the world, a tiger looking orchid that was just beginning to bloom. Most fascinating was the cultivator, who has won every kind of price and recognition from Thai Queen Sirikit, who cheerfully showed me how he breeds orchids in old whiskey bottles. Once he gets a tiny plant going, he seals them in a whiskey flask, for instance, and when it grows to the top fourth of the bottle, he must break the bottle and remove it to be planted in a pot. What creativity.

Cultivator and his bottles.
Next was a drive toQueen Sirikit Botanic Garden. I've visited many Botanic gardens in my garden club days, but this was a prize. The Queen is dedicated to biodiversity conservation and has put her full support behind this project that was begun in 1992. Of her investment in the 1000 plus hectares, she has said: " As the king is the Water, I shall be the Forest. The Forest devotes its loyalty to the Water." Most amazing was the extensive collection of water plants, including the many Lotus blossoms, the real thing - such as the Sacred Lotus which Buddha often has been depicted as sitting on top of in the many temples and monasteries I had visited in Tibet. But those versions had been of metal, wood or plastic. These are a horticulturist's dream. Even in my villa there are a species of the fragrant Lotus.

At botanic garden.
Sacred Lotus.
The "tropical rainforest" house filled with such enormous ferns and palms and trees, I flashed back to my childhood remembering my favorite adventure stories of Mary Jane and Sniffles. Mary Jane would be reduced to a tiny mouse size so she could play with Sniffles. So everything in the garden was super-huge to their size. I felt that small in all this glorious giantitude. The elements of God's creation when it comes to plants is just unbelievable. Thank you God.

In the rain forest.
The main focus for the afternoon was an unique experience. There are lots of Thai cooking schools. But I asked if there was someone who could teach me how to make the incredible sweets that one purchases in the markets. In the morning, Pippa had presented a plate of different sweets made by a lady Jeab. I about rolled off the chair with delight. Yes. And so after a real Thai lunch outside at the villa cooked especially for us, we were driven a ways to Jeab's house, which is snuggled back off the streets and the kitchen is completely open with a roof over it. Giant metal bowls of all sorts and a necessary large metal steamer took up most space. Cartons of huge duck eggs were under large tables.

Tray of Thai sweets.
Jeab is a smiling lady with salt and pepper short hair who daily creates ten sweets to sell at the market. She welcomed us with the custom of hands in prayer position and a bow. I bowed back. A young girl named Po, who works at the Ritz Carlton here and is studying to be a lawyer, was there to be translator for her friend. And in the laughter and joy of two hours learning about coconut water, milk and a whole range of tricks, I learned (I hope) to make Coconut milk jelly; white jelly; pumpkin-duck egg sweet; and the star of the afternoon, a layered pudding like thing which took most of the time to make because it is steamed and every five or so minutes, a tin layer or batter is poured on top of the more solid one. This amazing sweet is colored by the Thai flower, a deep purple flower that looks like a partially opened Iris. But put in water and boiled in water, it emits a strong purple color which is used for one half of the batter. So we layered white or blue batter until we have probably 20 or more layers that can be peeled back when eating. What a trip!!! Everything takes time to set so we will get the results of our labors this afternoon. Let me tell you, there is nothing as delicious as Thai sweets.
Jaeb draining milk.

Layering batter.

Barbeque on a stick.

Motorcycles, etc.
Blind boys sing.
If that wasn't sufficient activity - now this is my kind of trip - we took off in the late afternoon as the rain opened soft fire on us below - to visit the Saturday night market in Chiang Mai. It's popular and always packed. I was amazed at how many American young folk and Europeans seem to appear. There were a million motorcycles and strange mini-bus and rickshaw taxis on the street. As the rain stopped just in time we began to stroll the long street of venders. Crafts, clothing, Angry Bird light up balls, gypsy style skirts, and entertainers - a line of blind boys one sitting behind the other, singing beautiful songs that one could listen to, a man playing crystal glasses, another old man on some strange guitar-like creation singing typical Chinese disharmony. Most popular is always the food venders with every kind of Thai favorite. I tried a fried banana on a stick but there were Chiang Mai sausages (don't know what that meant), hot spicy Thai food, palm puff balls (sweets), just everything imaginable and not at all western in form. But the prize of this long day for me was finding the huge sushi displays and of all things, in all places, I ate Angry Bird sushi!!! See Photo.
Sushi spread.
Man playing glasses.
Angry Bird sushi

2 comments:

BEARANGEL said...

A feast for the eyes , as well as the palate!

Geraldean and Curtis said...

Audrey,
It does sound like you have finally found Eden. Wow! You have gone through so much to get there.
We love the photos!
You have described so many mouth watering Thai sweets. Now with all you have learned at the cooking schools, you will have to make them for us.
Hope you continue to enjoy your fabulous adventure.
See you soon. God bless
Love you,
Gerandean and Judge