Way back when we were planning this trip around the world, I was excited to visit Thailand. Part of the reason is our love of Thai food and knowing that the Thai beaches are incredible. The main reason, however, was the opportunity to reconnect with one of my best friends from high school, Carole. I hadn’t seen Carole since just after I graduated college, as she’s been living in Thailand for the last nine years. In the meantime, we have both gotten married, bought houses, changed jobs several times, and generally lived amazing lives – just on opposite sides of the globe.
After meeting her for lunch our second day in Chiang Mai, we invited her and her husband, Tee, to dinner at our apartment. What was supposed to be an opportunity for us to treat them quickly turned in to Carole and Tee generously driving us for a overnight visit to Tee’s parents in the Phrao district of the northern Thai countryside.
Phrao, about an hour and a half north of Chiang Mai, is the country. Tee’s parents live on a narrow road that winds in between rice paddies and the occasional water buffalo. With a stream full of fish winding next to their house, chickens running around the yard, and a vegetable garden, they live off their land as much as they can. As (very) amateur gardeners at home, it was fun to enjoy meals with food that was just steps from source to table.
We are so thankful for the opportunity to spend the weekend with some amazing people. Tee’s parents speak Northern Thai, which isn’t the same as Thai, so the little we knew (“hello”, “thank you”, and “do you speak English?”), didn’t translate. While we shared no common language, we felt their love and generosity and I am sure they understood our gratitude.
After arriving and getting settled in, we had our first task to help prepare dinner – go fishing. We followed Dad to the dock he has on the stream. (When we asked Tee’s parents’ names, Carole replied “oh just call them Mom and Dad”). He had a couple of fishing rods and worms for bait.
We sat around chatting with Carole and waiting for the fish to bite. After a while, with no fish biting and our stomachs rumbling, Dad taught us the backup plan – throw in a lot of fish food and when you start seeing a good amount of nibbles, throw a net in and haul in dinner. We ended up with 3 fish, which Mom roasted over a small fire near the river.
Dinner was truly a special affair. We ate typical Thai style. There were bowls of regular rice to mix with dishes and a big container of sticky rice for dipping into the soups. We had the roasted fish, omelet, stir-fried morning glory and garlic, and a beef stew. These ranged from somewhat spicy to nose-running, sweat-inducing spicy. All of it was delicious and we ate and ate and ate.
Unknown to us at the time, there was a treat planned for us after dinner. Since we were leaving Chiang Mai on the day of Yi Peng and would miss the festival that famously involves releasing thousands of lanterns as wishes to the sky, Carole and Tee had brought floating lanterns for each couple to release. After watching the other couples send off theirs, we lit a candle that would fill the lantern with hot air and when it was ready, we made our wish and attached a firecracker to the bottom. Lighting the firecracker, we carefully (because you don’t want it to lean and catch fire) let the lantern go.
As they ascended to the heavens, the firecracker sent showers of sparks down on us. We could see them floating off over the countryside and even saw others in the distance that people nearby had sent up as well. After the lanterns were released and some more fireworks were set off, we culminated the night the Thai way – drinking beer with ice, sampling the local whiskey (Hong Thong) with soda water and, of course, Karaoke! There’s nothing like staying up way too late singing Boyz II Men, Aerosmith, and many other “classic” songs we grew up with (this was a free Thai version of karaoke, so our selections were somewhat limited).
Early Morning Country Exploration
Before breakfast the next morning, we piled into Tee’s car along with Dad and headed for a tour of the nearby area. The first stop was to the natural hot springs. We shook off our sandals and dipped our feet into the coolest of the hot springs – it was still really hot. Hot enough that our morning snack was soft boiled eggs – boiled in the hot springs. These were cracked, poured in to a mug, and served with a dash of soy sauce and pepper.
From the hot springs, we stopped by a new Buddhist temple. Dad is a temple painter and is in the midst of working on a mural in one of the worship buildings of the temple. This particular mural tells the story of the enlightenment of Buddha. After seeing so many temples in our explorations of Bangkok and Chiang Mai that had been built hundreds of years ago, it was pretty fun to see one in the middle of being constructed and being painted by someone we knew!
After cruising around, we had worked up a good appetite. Mom did not disappoint and there was another feast for breakfast. The left over fish had been cooked in to a stew. The leftover beef stew had been cooked down to be even spicier – every bite left me crying and sweating, but I didn’t stop. I think the best way to experience another culture is through the food and Tee’s parents definitely gave me the gift of experiencing the northern Thai cuisine.
On our way home we made one stop to see the Bua Thong or the Sticky Waterfalls. Unlike any other waterfall we’ve seen these are literally sticky. Mineral deposits on the rocks provide a grippy surface and the lack of algae that often makes rocks slippery under water mean that you can walk up these waterfalls with relative ease. I scaled one of the sections. While, it is very easy to make your way up, it does take a little bit of time to gain the confidence that you’re not going to all of a sudden be washed away.
Catching Up After a Decade
I remember my high school years fondly, but sadly, haven’t had much contact with many I went to school with, beyond some Facebook cruising and the occasional message. To be able to spend time remembering those years, the cross-country and track meets, proms, and many other times just hanging out (even if it meant breaking out some awkward and embarrassing photos), was an amazing way to bring the past to the present. I am thankful to be able to introduce Danielle to one of my oldest friends and to introduce Carole to the love of my life. Even better, it was incredible to talk about our current lives, the celebrations, the hardships, the adventures, and the future.
I hope that it won’t be another 10 years until I see Carole and I hope it won’t take another round-the-world trip to get me back to this side of the globe. We’re so thankful for Carole and Tee for giving us an incredible opportunity to see a bit of Thailand that’s off the beaten path and being able to meet their amazing family!