Soon had us all up at 6am to head into town in order to give alms to the monks. They are not permitted to receive money and rely on the goodwill of the community to eat. As we were not able to cook our own food for them, Soon took us to a stall that provides the necessary rice, curry, fruit, drinks, dessert and flowers neatly laid out in a basket. We all (except Elaine and Jeffrey, who excused themselves on account of their devout Christianity) took turns to offer alms to passing monks.
The monk would pause, open their metal alms bowl and we placed the items inside. Finished, the monk would close the bowl, we knelt and were offered a blessing. The monks take their food offerings back to their temple where it is shared. We then had a ‘local’ breakfast at a nearby café, comprising delicious pork balls and congealed pig blood in a soup, served with rice and a spicy dressing.
After a short rest back to the hotel we were introduced to Amy, one of our family hosts for tonight’s homestay. She took us to another local market to purchase ingredients for the cooking class and meal before we headed to a restaurant for khnom jeen (‘Dessert Chinese’). This is a combination of wet rice noodles and crisp fried noodles in a curry sauce, with a choice of pork, chicken or seafood, a bit like a laksa.
The homestay was located in Baan Mae On, a small village about 50km from Chiang Mai and its facilities were basic – bed was a thin mattress on the floor of a traditional open air teak hut – but comfortable enough for one night. Men and women were divided into separate dorms.
We were treated to a lengthy cooking class in the afternoon. It always seems to take along time to cook one dish, even with Soon’s assistance and the supervision in the case of Amy, her mum Aoi and brother, plus the assistance of various ‘aunties’. We made more pastes and cooked curries with chicken and pork, but nowhere near all the dishes on the menu, including port skin, fried chicken, tempura mushrooms and more. The kitchen battalion laboured on while we rested prior to dinner. Even here, there was fast WIFI for us to stay connected and Liz, Jeffrey and Elaine made travel bookings for a stopover in Koh Samui after the tour.
Dinner was served in the large family living room where we were seated on the floor (chairs provided for Leonie and Jeevan’s mum). A small orchestra of local students and their teacher played folk music on traditional instruments. The ‘violins’ were reminiscent of Chinese instruments but made from cocoanuts. The teacher played a large xylophone-like instrument. Aoi, Amy and her brother also joined the band.
When we’d finished eating, the students offered us quick lessons on their instruments. The only noise I could produce from my coconut fiddle sounded likes chooks being strangled, despite the patient tuition and compliments on my accomplishments from my young tutor. We were also offered brief shoulder massages from Amy’s uncles and aunties, who had very firm fingers.
We were ushered to the garden where the stage was set for some displays and performances of local folk dancing, again by students of the local school, which were splendid. The whole evening was capped off with fire lanterns. We were invited to write our names and wishes on the delicate paper. Amy then wrote all our names in Thai on one of them and the candles were lit by an especially cute little boy. We got lots of photos and released the lanterns into the night sky.
Afterwards we sat and chatted again before being called back to the kitchen to make dessert, which none of us needed. It involved cutting banana leaf which we then folded and stuffed with a mixture of rice flour filled with mung bean paste. These were then steamed. None of us wanted any dessert, so these went on the breakfast menu. A long but incredibly special and memorable day.