We arrived at Doi Suthep and climbed the long staircase to the compound of the Wat. Just the climb up to the Wat is worth the trip and the Wat itself is quite spectacular
. Not all of the Wats depict the same image of Buddha. Wat Doe Suthep is constructed in the Lanna style, where Buddha is shown with different facial features and the Wat has distinctive tiered roof tops. The gold Chedi gleams in the center of the main compound. Under the bodi trees are the ashes of followers with plaques in their memory. The Wat has the best views of the city around...most of the time! Since we arrived in Chiang Mai, there has been some sort of forest fire in the area so our view of the city was just smoke. I'm sure it's beautiful on a clear day!
Further up the hill is the winter palace of "the King." Much like the main palace, the grounds are open to the public, but the buildings are not. Still worth the price of admission, the grounds host one of the better botanical gardens in the area and you can sit and reflect on the expression "it's good to be the king" as you realize that this is his home and he never even has to mow the lawn. It is good to be the king!
We had a cooking class scheduled for the evening so we headed back to our mean machine for the ride back into town. Our mean machine had acquired a rather mysterious flat tire. The thing about having a flat tire at the winter palace is a) There's nothing around to fix the tire, and b) You are 10 miles outside of town
. A flat tire did not fit into our schedule. Luckily (or so it seemed), one of the taxi drivers (they drive trucks with benches) offered to truck us and our now "lame green machine" back into town for the low, low price of 300 bhat ($10 bucks). This seemed like a good deal considering the circumstances, so another local called and confirmed the address from which we rented and we all lifted the scooter into the truck, sat beside it and took off for our winding ride down the mountain. As we sat in the truck, three things initially kept crossing my mind. First, we didn't have a flat when we went in the palace, and second, I thought that the taxi driver offered his services a little bit too quickly and third, scooters are really heavy and I really wish this guy would SLOW DOWN!! As the truck squealed down the mountain and the scooter shifted from side to side crushing our legs, my thoughts drifted to, "we may die in this truck." I also thought, "is it possible that the taxi drivers would let the air out of your tire so they could extort a ride?" "Are people inherently dishonest?" Initially, thinking this was just paranoid, we gave the driver the benefit of the doubt. Upon arriving at the rental office car-sick and bruised, we paid our driver and explained the situation to the mechanics. They inspected the tire and found no nails or cuts. We explained our suspicions and sure enough the tire wasn't damaged and someone had intentionally let the air out while we toured Phuping Palace! The good Samaritan scam strikes again
! The shop was disappointed by our experience and discouraged by our excessive payment to the driver and seemed genuinely disturbed that this entire incident happened. We were also annoyed by the entire situation, but on the up side 300 bhat is only ten dollars and if you're going to get scammed out of money abroad, ten dollars is a nice amount to lose. If the Buddhist belief in reincarnation holds true, that taxi driver will surely come back as a roach. Maybe I'll get to step on him!
We were picked up shortly after our return for our evening at the Chiang Mai Cooking School. Chiang Mai is home to many such schools, but this one is the oldest and allegedly the best. The course format includes a six course dinner, which you prepare. Each course is demonstrated in their performance kitchen by the expert (and surly) staff after which you proceed to your cooking stations to duplicate that course and eat it. It was a little intimidating, because the staff would finish their demonstration, look at us coyly and say, "Now come try my
green curry with chicken," before we actually attempted to make our own. Also, when asked about what to pair particular dishes with the answer was always "Well, is good with Thai whiskey, umm, then rice or cucumbers..." We made tom yum soup, fish cakes, green curry with chicken, spicy chicken salad, pad thai noodles and a dessert of water chestnuts with coconut cream. The food was AWESOME! (except the dessert) and in theory
we can make all of this at home upon our return. The school offers five classes in total covering all aspects of preparation and presentation. Suffice to say, a graduate of all five courses wouldn't need to go out for Thai food anymore.
Our day began with another scooter rental to once again enjoy "Scooter Madness." Even though I swore I would never do this again, this was the best and most efficient way to see two of the remaining sights located outside of the city. Wat Doi Suthep sits on a mountainside overlooking Chiang Mai. Boasting spectacular views and schools for meditation, the Wat also houses a gold plated Chedi and is considered one of the most beautiful in Thailand. We selected our scooter carefully this time, allowing for a larger size, extra power and a needed automatic transmission. Satisfied with our lime-green mean machine we set out through the city streets dodging taxis and tuk-tuks and headed for the winding road up the mountain.