My first real stop in Thailand was the northern town of Chiang Mai.
I stayed here for a couple of days and did a few different activities. I went elephant trekking for a while which was fun. Elephants are quite intelligent and impressive creatures and it was cool to ride on such a powerful creature that you knew could crush you in an instant if he (mine was DEFINATELY a he!!) so wished. Thankfully unlike the elephant I met in Vietnam he didn't try to take my head off with he truck, which was nice. I also went white water rafting which is always alot of fun even though the rapids didn't exceed grade four at any point. Nevertheless we played around alot in the water and the guides were very playful and always for some some messing and joking around. I also did some trekking into the Jungles and forests of northern Thailand and got to visit some minority people villages up in the hills surrounding Chiang Mai. To be brutally honest I wasn't too bothered about this after all the trekking I've down in Laos and really one minority village looks incredibly like all the rest I've seen all around south east Asia. What makes it even less impressive is that these minority villages in Thailand are obviously well used to tourists passing through and have all their stalls manned with the standard ethic souvenirs. One feels they only get into traditional dress as the tourists enter and are back in jeans and nike t-shirts when the tourists depart again.
Chiang Mai is also famous for is cuisine so I went along for a Thai cooking course which was actually alot of fun. It's not some thing I would usually go for but I must admit that I enjoyed the course and learned how to make quite a few dishes. The course itself was set in a beautiful organic farm about 20km outside the city which made for a very pleasant venue to cook and eat the dishes. It was also quite nice to be able to wander around the farm to pick the ingredients for your dishes. We also went to a local market to pick up a few things that were required that didn't grow on the farm. The dishes themselves are actually all quite easy to make, the only hassle would be in sourcing the ingredients. It remains to be seen if I'll actually use this new found skill when I return home. I have a recipe book from my course so who knows!
The final 'Thai Experience' I tried was a visit to a Muay Thai boxing event. Normally I'm not altogether interested in watching two men beat each other up for the amusement of others especially if I have to pay for it. I can just go to the local fast food outlet after the night clubs close in Limerick if I want that kind of 'entertainment'! It's always amazed me how if you fight inside a ring it's ok but outside on the street you'll be arrested for assault! Details, the divil is always in the details!
Anyway I went as there were a few people up for experiencing this Thai sport and oddly enough we saw in the advertisements that one of the main attractions was Ireland versus Thailand - now I had to attend! There were several fights on the cards ranging from low weights up to heavy weights. There were also some 'special' fights in the interval which were quite amusing. One of them entailed blind folding three fighters and have them stagger around the ring blind trying to hit each other. It was very amusing to watch them flail about and punch thin air. The person in most danger was the referee and he seemed to cop the most punches. The other 'special' fight was a fight between two female Thai boxers. Perversely this was the most vicious and frenetic of all the fights on the card that night and served up the only knock out. Women - vicious creatures I tell you!
Anyway my interest peaked when James, "The Dublin Destroyer", entered the ring. He was the stereotypical Irish man which red hair, freckles and a look that screamed "I'm a paddy". I suddenly began to feel very worried that this could be an embarrassment and I would be in for some ribbing from the people I was with. However James was quite altogether looking and obviously had trained in Thai boxing for a while as he started much stronger and landed some excellent punches and kicks to his opponent. It was no short flutter of activity either as he continued to dominant throughout the match and indeed the fight was stopped during the fourth round (there are only five rounds in Thai boxing) which Jame, "The Dublin Destroyer", declared the victor. Go Irish ;-)