Trip to Chiang Mai – Final Part

The final full day in Chiang Mai we drove up to Doi Suthep, a mountain that is immediately to the west of Chiang Mai and offers, on a clear day, a nice view of the greater Chiang Mai area.  On the top of the mountain is a temple which ostensibly dates back to the late 14th century and is one of the most significant sites for Thais to visit.  It is also a very beautiful temple so is well worth the trip up the winding 13 km road from the city.

Stephanie and I picked up my friend Kari, who recently moved back to Thailand from Kenya with her husband Ron.  They are both missionaries whom Tawn and I first met when I was attending Union Language School after first moving here four years ago.

The day was drizzly but as we drove up the mountain, the drizzle subsided replaced by a thick fog.  On the way up we had to stop and help a family whose pickup truck had slipped into a small ditch at the side of the road.  Thankfully, only one tire was in the ditch and with the help of another driver, we were able to jimmy it free.


The base area of the temple has lots of tourist shops, stalls, stands and vendors.  It is a bit of a circus.  Thankfully there were not too many people there thanks to both the inclement weather as well as the depressed tourism situation in Thailand.  There are two ways to reach the temple: you can either take a short cable car ride or you can walk the 300 steps (decorated with beautiful nagas, or multi-headed serpents).  Here’s a photo of Stephanie posing before we began our ascent.


One of the vendor’s dogs sitting on the wall, imitating the nagas in the previous photo!


The temple is perched right on top of the mountain and is surrounded by lush tropical forest.  The fog was very thick and advanced quickly, swallowing up the mountainside.  This picture reminded me of something from the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.


Looking down to the area where the monks’ quarters are located.  Visibility was down to about 30 meters.  Note the lanterns.  These are a very typical Lanna / Northern Thai style lantern.  Beautiful, no?


While taking pictures the fog started to turn into a mist and, eventually, drizzle.  Thankfully we had our umbrellas with us.


The main chedi, or stupa, is covered in gold with four gold umbrellas standing on the corners.  On a sunny day it is beautiful and makes a striking contrast with the blue skies.  See this photo as an example.  Today, however, we just had to appreciate it at a different level.  In fact, the fog/mist/drizzle lent an interesting serenity to the place.


Rare to get a shot here with no visitors in it!


I like the drops of water on the statues.  After about an hour poking around we decided the dampness was getting to us and descended to the parking lot area.


From the main entrance we looked back up towards the temple and the summit, which was now entirely shrouded in the clouds.

Here’s a video of the few days up there:


While in Chiang Mai we had the opportunity to eat quite a bit of Northern Thai food, which offers some of the best dishes in all of Thailand.  Here is a spread we had one night.  In the upper left is a variety of vegetables and a Northern style sausage called sai oua.  It is served with a green chili dipping sauce (available in varying degrees of spiciness) called nam prik ong.  In the center is a red pork and chili dipping sauce called nam prik num.  It is more savory than spicy.  You eat it with the fried pork rinds in the upper right.  That’s right, Thais love cracklins!  The bamboo container in the lower left features khao niaw or sticky rice.  In the center is a plate of raw veggies and herbs served on ice, which are eaten to cool the spiciness.  Finally, the dish in the lower right is a salad made of sun dried pork, shallots, peanuts, cilantro and chilies.


Here’s another view of the sai oua and nap prik ong and khao niaw.  I bought some at the Chiang Mai Airport at a vendor who has been around for years and carried it onto the plane.  That’s right – you can bring super-spicy green chili sauce onto the plane here as a carry on.  Bottled water through security?  No.  But nam prik ong?  Absolutely fine.  Everyone knows that isn’t dangerous.

Trip to Chiang Mai Part 2

The highlight of our trip to Chiang Mai was a drive two hours south to Doi Inthanon National Park.  One of the largest parks in the Kingdom, this is the home to the “rooftop of Thailand”, Doi Inthanon peak.  Many people who visit Thailand stay in typically touristy areas, particularly the biggest cities and the beach towns.  As lovely as these are, they miss out on the spectacular natural beauty to be found in this country.


This park features several beautiful waterfalls including the impressive Vachiratharn Falls.  These falls are all located just short walks away from parking areas making them accessible to almost everyone.  Even several months after rainy season, these falls are going strong!


There are also hiking trails if you want to get more of a workout.  On our way to the top of the falls, which turned out to be less interesting than viewing them from down below, we found this interesting stand of dead bamboo.  There were also several disused picnic tables on the way up, all in areas that didn’t seem conducive to a pleasant picnic.


Near the summit of Doi Inthanon are a pair of chedis built by the Royal Thai Air Force to commemorate the fifth cycle (i.e. 60th) birthdays of their majesties the King and Queen of Thailand in 1987 and 1992, respectively.  These are beautiful chedis, both done in modern style.  They are very distinct with the King’s chedi having very dark stone and the Queen’s being built in with a violet hue.  Since my last visit in 2006 they have installed enclosed escalators to make the climb to the top easier for the thousands of elderly Thais who come here to pay their respects.


The hazy, cloudy view from the top of Doi Inthanon looking southwest towards Burma.


At the top of the peak (2,565 meters / 8,416 feet as marked by the small round metal plaque on the concrete pedestal in the foreground of the picture) is a small shrine to the memory of the Phra Chao Inthawichayanon, one of the last kings of Chiang Mai until his death in 1897.  During his 27-year reign, King Inthawichayanon was very concerned about the preservation of the forests and mountains in what was still an independent tributary Lanna kingdom.  Following his wishes, the king’s remains were interred at this spot on the top of what was then called Doi Luang.  The mountain was subsequently renamed Doi Inthanon.

It was also during his reign that the remnants of the Lanna kingdom were finally annexed into greater Siam.  One could argue that the political friction in modern-day Thailand (which has a very distinct north versus central split) has its roots in these ancient annexations. 


Part way down the mountain is the Royal Agricultural Station, a large garden area that has acres of greenhouses where different types of plants are grown.  The purpose of the project is to identify different species from around the country and also cultivate other species that may be well-suited to Thailand’s different climates.  As an example of some of the work done by various royal-sponsored agricultural foundations, opium production in Thailand (which once used to be the world’s top producer) has almost entirely vanished, being replaced by cash crops such as coffee and macadamia nuts.


Tiptoe through the tulips…


Reflection in the pond.  The sun kept trying to break through but it rarely lasted.


My personal favorites, the fuchsias.  The climate up here on the mountain is very similar to that of my childhood home in the San Francisco Bay Area.  We had fuchsias in our backyard that my father tended to with great care.  Seeing these in the greenhouse brought back many memories.  I used to snap open the flowers, enjoying the “pop!” sound they made.


Mae Ya Falls, Doi Inthanon National Park – Chiang Mai Province.  Our friend Kari is standing in the distance taking pictures.


Chris hoping that there isn’t a sudden flash flood!

I’ll continue tomorrow with the second road trip in Chiang Mai, up to Doi Suthep, along with some video.


Trip to Chiang Mai Part 1

Stephanie and I waited until after the New Year’s weekend to head up to Chiang Mai, hoping to avoid the crowds of Thais who would be up there in the search of cooler weather.  The crowds of foreigners might be lighter, too.  What we found surprised us. 

Chiang Mai was deserted – no exaggeration, it was mighty lonely up there.  I spoke with several locals and the story I heard again and again was that this is the least busy they’ve seen things in many years.  Granted, the economy is bad and two years ago the airports in Bangkok were shuttered for a week as part of political protests.  Still, with the great value that Thailand offers and the nice weather in Chiang Mai, I was surprised at how quiet things were.


Things got off to a slow start as after boarding, we pushed back and fired up our engines only to be towed back to the gate because of an indicator light.  After ten minutes of poking around we pushed back again, only to be returned to the gate.  The pilot, an American, came into the cabin and apologized for the delay and indicated that they would have to have a closer look at something related to the oil system.  We disembarked and waited about forty-five minutes until given the all clear.  Above, a mechanic with a box of oil working on our engine.


Chiang Mai started out sunny the first day with temperatures not too much cooler than Bangkok’s but at least a bit less humid.  Stephanie and I stayed at the Imperial Mae Ping hotel, one of the original high-rise hotels in the city but thanks to a remodel and the fine service of the staff, still a very nice place to stay.  Considering we paid just US$40 a room in the midst of high season, it was a steal.

There are countless temples in the heart of the city, which is very walkable.  We stopped by several of them, taking pictures and talking with people.  Everywhere we went, people assumed Stephanie was the Thai and would speak to her, only to be confused when I would be the one responding to the questions as she looked at them with a polite smile and blank expression.

At one temple, the patriarch of the temple, a saffron robed man in his eighties, was sitting in a plastic chair managing the work of several young monks.  He waved me over and we chatted for several minutes.  He was selling me on the unique attributes of his particular monk and an upcoming ceremony they would have.  “Come back and see it!” he said as I bid my farewell.

More to come…


Singing in the Rain

It takes a long time for mail to get here sometimes.  This last week I received bunches of Christmas and holiday cards, most of which had been sent long before the holidays.  Among them was a card from Sugi and Andy containing a CD of the final batch of photos from our trip to visit them in Taipei.

Included in it was this great shot.  We were at the Tamshui Fisherman’s Wharf on a wet, cold and blustery day.  As Sugi and I posed for a picture the wind got the better of her and her umbrella.

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Needless to say, the umbrella was destroyed.  But we enjoyed a good laugh, which is really the point, right?


New Year’s Cinnamon Rolls

Perhaps I have my timeline wrong because now that I think about it, these may have been New Year’s Eve breakfast cinnamon rolls.  Nonetheless, we started our morning with a pan of cinnamon rolls that were mighty tasty, especially with a tangy orange zest and buttermilk icing. 

My great-grandmother, a woman of stout German heritage, made cinnamon rolls regularly.  These were yeast rolls which required more time and advance planning.  I’m quite keen on a recipe from Cooks Illustrated that uses as its base a baking powder biscuit dough.  You mix the dough, roll it out, add the topping then roll it up, cut it and bake it.  Easy.


The ingredient for this recipe are pretty simple.  The cinnamon-sugar filling is 5.25 oz of brown sugar, 1.75 oz of granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon each ground cloves and salt, and 1 tablespoon of melted butter.  You can modify the sugar and spices a bit if you would like to achieve a different flavor profile or level of sweetness.  For example, you could add some nutmeg or cut back on the sugar a little.

The biscuit dough is 12.5 oz all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1.25 teaspoons baking powder, 0.5 teaspoons baking soda, 0.5 teaspoon salt, 1.25 cups buttermilk and 6 tablespoons melted unsalted butter.


Mix the sugar and spices together and then add the one tablespoon butter, stirring until it forms the consistency of wet sand.


Mix the dry ingredients for the dough together.  Pour 2 tablespoons of the melted butter into the buttermilk, whisking to distribute the butter into little drops throughout the buttermilk.  Pour this liquid mixture into the dry ingredients.


Stir together until just combined.  The dough will be wet and tacky.


Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead just a few times until it becomes smooth and is no longer shaggy.


Using your hands, pat the dough into a 12 by 9 inch rectangle.  Brush the remaining butter onto the dough leaving a small gap at the edges.


Evenly sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture across the dough, leaving a border around the edge.   You can use less than the entire amount of the mixture if you don’t want the rolls to be as sweet.  You can also add chopped nuts and raisins or other dried fruit at this point.  I used pecans and black and golden raisins.


Working with a bench scraper or spatula, start rolling the dough along the long side, pressing down to make the roll pretty tight.  This helps hold the filling in place.  As you get to the final edge, brush a little more melted butter along the edge to help it hold firmly.  Pinch the edges shut and gently smooth the log so it is uniform in size.


Cut the log into nine equally sized slices.


Carefully place each slice in a buttered nonstick cake pan.  Place the first slice in the center and distribute the remaining slices around the first one like flower petals.  You can brush the tops of the rolls with any remaining butter and sprinkle on any leftover filling or filling that fell out on the cutting board.

Bake in a preheated 425 F oven for about 25 minutes or until edge are golden brown. After loosening the edges with a spatula and allowing to rest for two or three minutes, slide onto a greased cooling rack without separating.  I found it easier, though, to invert them onto a plate and then invert them again onto a second plate or serving platter.  Otherwise the buns wanted to fall apart.  Wait five more minutes before icing.


While the rolls are baking, prepare a cream cheese icing.  The icing is 2 tablespoons of softened cream cheese, 2 tablespoons buttermilk, some orange zest and 4 oz confectioner’s sugar, whisked together.


Drizzle the icing onto the rolls, as much or as little as you desire.  These are best eaten while warm but they tasted pretty good upon reheating later in the day, too.


The finished product!  Beautiful, isn’t it?  With some fresh fruit it makes for a pretty healthy (well, almost) start to the day.


There we are with our New Year’s Eve day breakfast.  A sweet end to the old year!


New Year’s Eve

After four days up in Chiang Mai and having sent our houseguest Stephanie on her way back to Melbourne, let me return to New Year’s Eve and catch you up on events.

New Year’s Eve is a big event here in Thailand.  In fact, unlike for many companies in the United States, New Year’s Eve is a statutory holiday here, as is New Year’s Day.  Tawn’s extended family, much of which lives in properties adjacent to his parents’, hold a big annual party to ring in the new year.  Tawn was there for most of the afternoon, returning home about 11 pm to celebrate the stroke of midnight with Stephanie and me.

This left Stephanie and me to our own devices for most of the evening.  Instead of venturing out – crowds and the threat of bombs! – we stayed at home and had a low-key dinner of homemade pizza, salad and chocolate souffles.


The pizza was pepperoni, mushrooms and red peppers, something simple and satisfying to munch on.


A mixed greens salad with plenty of toppings increased the healthfulness of the meal.  Then we took a turn for the cardiac unit (no, wait – chocolate has antioxidants, right?) with the souffles.

This was not my first time using this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated Best Make-Ahead Recipes.  The secret is that you can make souffles in advance, wrap them well (uncooked) then freeze them.  Then, when you want a hot souffle all you have to do is take it out of the freezer and slip it into a hot oven.  Twenty five minutes later you’ll have dessert on the table.


The ingredients: chocolate, confectioner’s sugar and granulated sugar, egg yolks, egg whites, cream of tartar, salt, vanilla and a bit of orange liqueur.

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Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl set over simmering water.  Beat the egg yolks into the granulated sugar.

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Continue whipping the yolks and sugar until the mixture triples in volume.  Gentle fold the chocolate and egg mixture together until just incorporated.

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Whip the egg whites, adding a bit of cream of tartar and then a bit of confectioner’s sugar, until they form stiff peaks.

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Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture until mixed, being careful not to deflate.  Spoon into ramekins that have been buttered and sprinkled with granulated sugar.  Fill to the top and then cover with plastic wrap and then foil.  Refrigerate for up to three hours or freeze.  When ready, remove the wrappings and bake on a tray in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the interior is still slightly soft.


Remove and dust with confectioner’s sugar.  Some berries or a berry sauce are nice, too!


Above, Stephanie and I toast our New Year’s Eve dinner.  Would have been nice to have Tawn home with us, but he was back in time for the fireworks.

While it is a bit more than a week late, let me wish you all the very best for 2010.  May each of you enjoy good health, great happiness and boundless peace.


Tawn, Meet Martha

The most important thing for you to know is that neither of the pictures in this entry were doctored.  One of Tawn’s heroes is – no surprise here – Martha Stewart, the domestic diva who has empowered women around the globe (and many men, too) to rediscover the joy of the homemaking arts.

SNC14472 In an object lesson for the theory that it is all about who you know, Tawn had the opportunity to meet Martha.  His friend Ble (pronounced “bun”), a fairly well known Thai interior designer and decorator who designed our condo, has a trio of stores in the mid-Sukhumvit area, Eligible, Incredible and Irresistible.  Tori Burch, a fashion designer, has shopped at Ble’s stores many times and when Tori’s friend Martha came to Phuket for the holidays, Tori told her about these fabulous stores she must come see.

Martha’s hosts, the family whose company owns the rights to distribute the Martha Stewart Living line in Southeast Asia, contacted Ble, who has done design work for their stores here in Bangkok, and arranged for Martha to come visit his shops.

Ble contacted Tawn for some PR and hosting suggestions so that Martha and her assistant would be comfortable but not overwhelmed when they came to shop.  Tawn brought one of our our tea sets and several boxes of Mariage Fréres teas that he purchased on his last trip to Paris.

Sure enough, Martha was impressed with Tawn’s tea service.  After Tawn offered tea to her, she looked over the set and after tasting the tea and commenting how nice it was, she and Tawn had a brief conversation about where he had acquired the tea.  “Mariage Fréres,” she said, “How charming.”

While she shopped, Martha and her assistant took notes and pictures and she mentioned that she would write about this visit on her blog.  Perhaps she’ll even mention the handsome man who served her a proper cup of tea.  It’s a good thing.


From left to right, Eddy, Ble, Martha and Tawn.  She looks a little apprehensive with that body language, doesn’t she?  As if she’s never been surrounded by gay men before.  Pish-posh!  Anyone notice what Tawn and Martha have in common?

Needless to say, our tenth anniversary couldn’t have been better celebrated than with this visit from someone whom we both highly respect.


Can it be ten years already?

Perhaps all couples deal with the confusion about what dates are important to celebrate in their relationship.  For married couples, the date of marriage is the paramount anniversary.  There are other dates, too.  First meeting, first date, first kiss, etc.  Since Tawn and I only recently married, we’ve long used January 3rd as our anniversary as this is the date we first met.

The whole story about how we met – and I think it is a compelling one that should be turned into a screenplay – is located here.  I won’t repeat it in this entry – you can read it at your leisure as I know many of you have.  But I would like to note that it has been ten years – ten years! – since that day.  Ten years finds us in the same city where we spent our first few days together, so perhaps that is telling.

After recently completing my project of having all my old 35mm negatives scanned, I came across the first picture of Tawn and me together.


That’s us on January 4, 2000 in historic Ayutthaya, the former capital of old Siam.


Here’s us two days ago, January 1st 2010.  No, the baby isn’t a recent addition to our family!  We ran into some friends during brunch who just gave birth to their first daughter, Lada.  Notice any changes?  I think Tawn looks as handsome as ever!

Happy anniversary Tawn!


Updating the Nutrition Information Food Labels

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit public health advocacy group, is proposing changes in the way packaged food is labeled.  The CSPI, with whom I’ve had some disagreements over the years (disparaging movie theatre popcorn and in 1994 calling fettuccine Alfredo “a heart attack on a plate“), nonetheless has played a prominent role in bringing issues of diet and nutrition to the forefront of the public consciousness in America.

Their latest effort is around updating the nearly twenty-year old packaged food label.  This label is designed to provide consumers with the information needed to make health-conscious choices while standing in the supermarket aisle.  CSPI, though, says there are many changes needed to bring the labelling up-to-date and make it an easier tool with more relevant information.

Food Label Here is a look at the before and after versions of the labels.  Notice they remain the same size, so no additional space would be required on packages.  You can click on the picture to see the full CSPI graphic about the labels.

Here are the proposed changes I find most interesting:

  1. Calorie and serving size information is in much larger type at the top of the label.
  2. The ingredient list is much easier to read by printing it in regular type instead of all capital letters.  Also, bullets separate ingredients rather than allowing them to all run together.
  3. Similar ingredients are listed together and shown by the percentage by weight. For instance, sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and grape juice concentrate are all forms of sugar and would be listed in parenthesis under the catchall heading “sugars.”
  4. Products containing more than 20 percent of the daily recommendation for fats, sugards, sodium and cholesterol would use red labeling and the word “high” placed next to the percentage.  Easier to avoid foods that are high in these things.
  5. For items made of grains, the top of the lable would prominently display the percentage of whole grains contained in the product.

What are your thoughts about these changes?  I’m a firm believer that knowledge is power and that people are hungry (pardon the pun) for more and clearer information about the food they are consuming.  Updated labels could help give people the information they need to make healthier, more helpful choices.

Additional Links:

A timeline of food and nutrition labeling.
Full CSPI graphic of proposed changes and of the old and new versions of the label.
Original NY Times article that inspired this entry.