56K and J? How big is the bloody plane to have a row 56? I don't think I've ever sat that far back and I'm not used to sitting out on the rudder either, so I was a little concerned that there was an error on our boarding passes. Our connection in Bangkok up to Chiang Mai was fairly tight as well so there was no room for messing around. Luckily, we had Sandy with us still, and she's a bit of an expert on this sort of stuff, so I asked her. She said that sometimes, the upstairs on a 747 has bigger numbers, and that might be where we are sitting. "Why on earth would they be flying a 747 on a one hour flight" I thought?
The answer came a little later as we strolled on to what was a very new Thai Airlines aircraft that had overhead bins and seat designs that I didn't recognize. Hell, there were at least 20 more rows behind ours! Then, finally, pulling the little safety card out of "the seat pocket in front of you", I was able to determine that we were in fact seated on an almost new 777! I'd never been on one. It's enormous. Still had the same question - why on a one hour route? The plane was at least three quarters empty, and there's no way they made any money. It was a great flight though with that great Thai service!
I remember a show I saw on the Discovery Channel about the 777. It was Boeing's first fully computer designed aircraft, and they had used calculations to predict what the finished weight of the aircraft would be so that they could do a bunch of modelling to help with the design. The incredible fact that I remember from this show is that even with all the materials and intricate design features (Think of all the aluminium, wiring, plastic, cloth, etc., all with different densities and manufacturing tolerances...). The actual weight of the aircraft was within 2 lbs of the predicted weight. Just amazing I thought.
Anyway, our goodbyes were said in the domestic departures hall of the Bangkok airport as we watched Sandy and Jayne fade off towards the bus to Khao San as they had several hours to kill. Well, maybe I watched them, as Kristine's eyes were thoroughly submerged in her self made eye aquarium at the time. But it didn't last long as our wait for our flight was short, and we were quickly on our way up North. It was a wonderful time together, and it was fun to have more travel mates to spread the conversation around a little more than usual. Any one else out there want to come visit?
Chiang Mai must be the embodiment of everything that is good about Thailand and the Thai people. In direct and stark contrast to the (sometimes sleazy) beaches of the south and sweltering Bangkok, Chiang Mai exudes a welcoming warmth with every aspect of its being. It features Chinese and Burmese influences which can be seen in the architecture, dress, and food. Indeed, Chiang Mai is located on what was an ancient route leading from China to the Indian Ocean and Andaman Sea, and was sacked at least once by the Burmese, so the culture left behind is certainly blended. It almost feels like a different country as compared to southern Thailand.
We were extremely lucky to get into Gap's House (with our late arrival), a highly recommended guest house with an excellent cooking school attached to it. The people here are extremely friendly and really helped us get settled easily. The next day (Sunday), we explored the fantastic Temples and Wats scattered around the city; then a gigantic Sunday night street market magically appeared in the streets at around 4 pm and lasted throughout the night. We wandered aimlessly for hours, sampling all the various drinks and food on offer, while inspecting the colourful wares that lined the sidewalks on two long intersecting streets. The mood was dreamlike with all the unfrosted light bulbs hanging over all the stalls. And then, out of nowhere, everyone just froze. You could hear the distant sound of music coming over a megaphone from somewhere far away. It was like in one of those twilight zone shows where everyone freezes in time and you are the only ones who can move around. For a few moments, we were walking around people who were all just standing there. Turns out it was the national anthem, and it is strongly associated with the King of Thailand, whom the Thai people respect greatly. Everyone stops when the national anthem is played. Just fantastic. And oh yeah, you can try fried frog, fried water bug, fried cockroach, fried grasshopper, and my personal favourite, fried maggot. All are purported to taste like french fries. Pass.
Then we went to school. One would have thought I have had enough of that. But this was different. Thai cooking school. It was excellent, and we learned how to make Thai green curry and pad thai and many things in between. The course was very well run and the teachers were funny and entertaining; you also got to eat everything you made. There was way too much food though, and after the afternoon session, you take home what's left for dinner! I have to say though, that I whimped out and took the tofu substitution for the fish. Kristine was brave and accepted the challenge but quickly wilted upon tasting her undersea creations. Just before the course, were taken to a local market and introduced to a number of new herbs and vegetables (the live catfish attempted to shake hands even), taught how to use a wok properly (you MUST have gas as rapid temperature regulation is critical in Thai cooking), and we were even shown how to make fancy tomato and onion flower garnishes (OK, I found that part a bit girly, but hey, I did make a spicy curry...)! Tonight we sleep on full stomachs. I hope I can lift my ass out of bed to go trekking...