Well before our arrival in Chiang Mai, our friend Mark (of CrossFit Chiang Mai and the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute) had asked if we wanted him to arrange for us to visit Patara Elephant Farm. Crazed with our cookbook launch, I hadn’t given it much thought, but I figured the kids would get a kick out of seeing some elephants, so I said sure. Why not?
I had no idea that by the end of the day, our kids would be doing this…
…and demanding to know whether we have enough room in our backyard for a pachyderm.
Located about 45 minutes south of Chiang Mai in the mountains surrounding the lush Hang Dong Valley, Patara Elephant Farm’s mission is to rescue and rehabilitate elephants. During the extensive orientation, we learned about the steep decline in the elephant population in Thailand over the past few decades, and Patara’s efforts to protect these magnificent animals. Patara has rescued and adopted a number of elephants, some from horrible (and illegal) working conditions. And unlike some of the other elephant camps around Chiang Mai that cater to tourists to the detriment of the animals, it’s obvious that the staff at Patara care deeply for their elephants. Each elephant at the farm is paired with one human guardian who’s responsible for bonding with and caring for the creature.
I’ve always been a firm believer in gastrotourism. When I travel, food experiences are my priority.
True story:Years ago, when Henry and I were tromping around Tuscany, I canceled a visit to see Michaelangelo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia because it got in the way of finding the best bollito misto in Florence.
I don’t spend much on material things (other than kitchen gadgets), but when it comes to culinary fun, all bets are off. The way I see it, I’m paying for an experience; the food may disappear as soon as it slides down my gullet, but the memories remain. And looking back at the most cherished moments in my life, virtually all of them involve meals shared with my favorite people.
That said, memorable meals don’t need to cost a fortune. In my book, all that matters is that the ingredients are sourced with care, prepared with love…and insanely delicious.
Case in point: one of my all-time favorite food experiences took place just a couple of days ago, when the boys and I spent the day at a small organic farm in rural Mae Tha, a hillside community about an hour’s drive from Chiang Mai. Our Saturday was so amazing that I already know I won’t be able to do it justice in this post, but I’ll try my best anyway.
Thanks to the fine folks at the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute (ISDSI), we had the unique opportunity to visit Bwosai Gantada’s family farm in Mae Tha. Our family spent the morning trailing behind her as she gave us a tour of her fields of painstakingly hand-planted and -weeded vegetables. Then, we picked and gathered fresh ingredients from her garden, which Bwosai used to prepare a hearty, multi-dish lunch cooked over open flames. We feasted on vegetables, meat, and rice that were all raised and harvested onsite.
A quick photo-heavy recap of our day before I stumble into bed and pass out:
We got off to a slow start this morning…
…but after downing some coffee…
…and a hearty breakfast of hot khai jiao (Thai omelets)…
…we were ready to venture out to the Friday morning market.
We’re incredible fortunate to have Mark Ritchie—founder of Chiang Mai’s International Sustainable Development Studies Institute and CrossFit Chiang Mai (and the guy who persuaded us to come halfway across the globe to northern Thailand!)—as our guide.
Henry and I love picking Mark’s brain. With his deep knowledge of Thai culture and language—and decades of experience living here in Chiang Mai—we have a rare opportunity to get a close look at the city around us, starting with the Friday morning market near the Night Bazaar.
Located near a prominent mosque, this open-air market is crammed with farmers and vendors offering everything from fresh produce and exotic fruits…
…to whole birds and wild honey.
(Yes, those are bees still in the honey. It’s that wild.)
The bustling, vibrant market was a feast for all the senses. Everywhere we turned, we spotted something new, interesting, and delicious.