While I was travelling in Thailand, a place that I’ve idealized in my head for years as this magical land of silk and culture, I was disappointed when instead of walking into a cultural and authentic hub in Chiang Mai I felt as though I was walking into Disney Land. I was seemingly trapped in the world’s largest theme park, where everything from internet cafes to foot massages to coffee on the street bore the ultimate backpacker approval: the “Lonely Planet recommended” sticker. There was no escape. I was in tourist trapped and there was no way out.
However, one night we ventured from our guesthouse and its hoard of existential backpacking souls desperately seeking to find not only themselves but also the meaning of life, to pursue a friend’s restaurant recommendation. Twenty minutes later, we were cozily seated in We’s restaurant, a single mother running a restaurant from her house in order to support her 11 year old daughter and year old Labrador puppy. Blown away by her green curry and her restaurant’s charm, I miraculously found an escape from the tourist trap: a private all day cooking lesson with We, her daughter Jib, and her dog for the next day.
We met at 9:30 and walked to her local market where she shops everyday and We quickly had me tasting, smelling and feeling ingredients I had never used before as she carefully chose her day’s supply of meats and vegetables. During this process, we stopped for coffee, and then again for noodles, (she said it was a must) and We shared her stories with me and told me about learning to cook from her mother, and in turn what her life is like as a mother herself.
What was most refreshing about my day cooking with We was that behind her delicious and incredible talent is simply a mother’s devotion to support her family. What tourists see as another charming restaurant on the streets of Chiang Mai is actually a family’s home. At night, tables and chairs are carefully arranged and staggered into a charming atmospheric ambiance, while during the day they are the tables that Jib does her homework on and where We prepares breakfast for her daughter and dog (yes, the dog gets homemade meals).
Too the disillusioned tourist looking for something real and authentic, you only need to look past that Lonely Planet sticker and see the lives that work behind it.