Noodle Soup in Chiang Mai
For reasons unclear, I departed from my guesthouse to visit Wat Umong forest temple without first eating breakfast, which is always a poor decision. For me, breakfast is fuel, and there I was, running out on empty.
Wat Umong is a 700-year-old temple complex at the base of the Doi Suthep mountain, the 5,500-foot peak that towers over Thailand’s second city. To get there I had to circumnavigate the 17th-century wall around the Old Town, and then head up a number of busy roads on my moped. But an empty stomach always leads to a weak mind and I fudged the directions. I took a turn too early and ended up on a traffic-heavy street. That was only the beginning of my troubles. Driving slowly, I noticed a roadblock ahead with traffic police and a number of bemused looking Japanese tourists standing by a motorbike. I tried to act casual as I passed, but a cop whistled and gestured me in.
I pulled up and before I could say, “What seems to be the problem, officer?” he said, “License.” He wore an egg-white helmet with white gloves and a maroon sash across his chest. His uniform looked royal.
“I don’t have one,” I said.
“You need.” He reached down and twisted the key on my bike, shutting off the engine. He walked away and soon came back with a thick notepad. He opened it and displayed it to me. A litany of offenses were listed in English and Chinese: driving without a helmet, driving with too many passengers, driving while intoxicated. With his gloved finger, he pointed at mine: driving without a license. Next to it was the fine, 500 baht, or about $14. I handed it over.
“You can drive. One day,” he said. “Go!”
I buzzed off. I rode down the highway for a while and took an exit towards the mountains. There was a dingy eatery on the side of the road and I stopped there for a bowl of noodle soup. The soup came with chunks of white pork, fried garlic, thin egg noodles, green onion, fish balls and crispy bits of fried pork skin, which I decided should accompany every bowl of noodle soup anywhere. The chef wore a funny white hat, and her smiling hospitality warmed me after my chilly encounter.