Location: Chiang Rai, May 1st - 2nd
Let me paint you a picture...
You are sitting outside, in a space somewhere between the size of a soccer field and football field. You are at a metal table that wobbles when you put pressure on it. And, when you do this you are also shifting your body weight, causing your low riding metal chair to also wobble.
In front of you is a stage where musicians alternate with traditional dancers and then girls who lip-synch to things like "I'm Your Lady" and "One Night Only." The aforementioned girls also come with backup male dancers who wear wings or sparkly pants or whip about multicolored scarves. Don't you just love scarves?
At the other end of this is a portion of shopping stalls with items that you don't need.
Items like this:
On your right and left sides are food stalls, where Thai mommas are making you their very finest in woks and in fryers. My friends will know me to make odd, low octave noises that sound like a rumbling yesssssss when I see awesome food. Imagine a place where I never stop rumbling and I'm quietly, internally fist pumping the air. Doing this externally while traveling alone and drip sweating would bring even more unwanted attention. So, we can't have that.
Kabobs, you got em for .50 cents! Gyro, yeah, sure, why not, only .75! Fried egg roll, shrimp, calamari, sure. Want pad thai, pad see yew, chicken with cashew, wok fried veggie, only $1.25. Sushi? Yep. A slushy, sure. A beer? Psha, why not a table tap? Grilled shrimp, grilled lime garlic fish, charred squid, garlic seared cockles? Oh friend, this is your heaven. It is MY heaven. (Beth, this is also your heaven, too)
WELCOME TO THE CHIANG RAI NIGHT MARKET
Or, more specifically, the food area I was told I wouldn't like because "it was for locals." Naturally, I beelined to this place, just past the main-drag joint that was populated by visiting tourists. For two nights in a row I've sat on a rickety chair between the food stalls and in front of the stage. I think my bill every night came to $9, but that was because I was working at it, and didn't leave until I created my own buffet.
A FEW CAVEATS ABOUT THIS EXPERIENCE
1) It is 90 degrees at 7PM at night here in Northern Thailand
2) By 10PM it drops about 5 degrees and it is life changing, Jesus himself shows up then and gives you an eskimo kiss
3) Thai people like their food SPICY which means, you guessed it, you'll be sweating in no time
NIGHT #1 AT THE MARKET
So the first night, I noshed on a chicken skewer, chicken with cashew, and wok spicy veggies. I watched EVERYONE however begin with cockles, fried shrimp, an egg roll and pad thai and THEN move to the main event... the hot pot. I was jealous. What fun they seemed to have! How happy they seemed to be with this DIY plussed up ramen experience! I watched, I learned, I planned. For my return.
NIGHT #2 AT THE MARKET
It's game time, people. I'm wearing my synthetic fabric dress by the fine purveyors of Aqua, that somehow can become soaking wet and not actually look it. (God bless thee, Aqua) As soon as I get off of my hotel shuttle, I focus in on one experience and one experience only. The hot pot. I roll up and I order a pork hot pot with an egg and very spicy. To ensure I will be in physical pain, I actually act out sweat pouring down my face with my fingers. Maybe the cook thought I was wishing for rain to touch my hot face. Who knows. #can'tcare. I found a large beer, a table, and I waited.
A QUICK NOTE ON HOW HOT IT REALLY IS HERE, WHICH MAY BE REPETITIVE BUT I FIND NECESSARY
There is a point where I am so hot, that I just give up. Usually, I don't get there and just hang out in the state where I tell people "I'm so hot" every three minutes. My friends Sarah and Lindsay saw this extreme "give up" state a few years ago when we were trying to go watch the World Cup at an LIC beer garden. I mistakenly wore a royal blue silk dress... on the subway in the thick heat of a New York summer. My friends watched me freak, cry and the dress turn from royal blue to a dismal black --- everywhere. They know the situation is serious when I become silent and die slowly inside, as I did on that subway.
And that, that is how hot it can be here. It is actually, more often than not, is MORE hot than that.
BACK TO THE HOT POT, WHICH KNOWING THE NAME ALONE, MEANS THAT I SHOULD NEVER EAT IT
The hot pot comes as broth in what looks like a dutch oven over a pot which seems to have been procured from Mr. McGreggor's garden. It is cracked and holding hot coals.
Step #1: Crack the raw egg. Step #2: Plop in your protein. Step #3: Throw in the veggies. Then stir, put the lid on, waaaaaait and then finally, eat.
So, here I am. Eating my hot pot. I am sitting at my table and after a few bites, need to pause to place the lady fan in one hand and a stolen hotel wash cloth in the other, fanning and wiping like a human car wash. I place both down, take a swig of beer and using my spoon and chopsticks, I make the perfect bite. I find some of the yolk, a piece of pork, noodles and mint. For a moment, I think that this is what heaven feels like. But.... not all the noodles make it into my mouth so like any good gal, I slurp... and the hot, spicy broth ends up in my eye.
I should tell you that the people who served me the soup, the people I mimed death by sweating to, are watching me. Gauging my white American girl moxie in eating what is some seriously spicy broth. And now, I am swigging my beer for support and holding my stolen wash cloth to my face. I am dropping f-bombs and sweating so much that sweat drips down the crevices where my nose touches my cheeks and you guessed it, goes INTO my soup bowl. If that is not enough, the eye with the soup in it is closed, like a pirate, and it is starting to well up with tears because chili peppers picked from the gates of hell have entered into it.
And, in this moment - this sweaty, closed eye, where's my hook and sidekick Smee fucking moment I think - this is it. This is the end of days. There is nowhere to go. You are alone. People are watching you sweat like someone who should be doing something, ANYTHING else but eating. You are slinging back man-size beers and all the while, a woman in front of you is wearing a tiara, pretending to sing to a song called "I'm Your Power Queen" and she is whipping the train of her dress back and forth, seemingly inspired by Willow Smith.
So, I just owned it. I rubbed that wash cloth right round my face like a record, waited for my cornea to adjust to the pain and then took that hot pot down... like a boss.
I loved it.
Someone send me a gold chain to commemorate this moment, please. Or three chains. As I hear the market is already pretty full with boss-like people who only wear and go by the name of two.