First I got the satisfying smell of fresh laundry, the tangy scent of washing powder and old fashioned starch and just a little bit of bleach. I spied a backyard full of sheets and multiple racks of clothes drying in the sun as I sped past on my little motor scooter.
Just as I was wondering how many back yard businesses there are in Chiang Mai I was hit by another one of Thailand’s smells; a powerful blast of fermenting fish commonly used to make the ubiquitous Thai fish sauce, Nam Plaa. Living in Chiang Mai is like being in an olfactory Disney World.
As with most things in Thailand everything is cranked up; the sounds, colours, noise, the general vibrancy of Chiang Mai, but what really sets SE Asia apart from its sedate European counterparts is the constant barrage of wonderful and unique smells. Spend five minutes in the spice market and you will feel like someone has just turned on the smell department in your brain. It will make you dizzy with sensory overload.
Whether it’s the heat, the open air living or the numerous back yard businesses, a simple journey to work around the back streets of Chiang Mai becomes a roller coaster ride of new and fragrant smells; a constant invisible barrage of smell fields.
One of my favourite smells on the way to our office, comes from the Chinese Temple. As I speed past, whether early in the morning or late at night, there is an incredible waft of burning incense. You can actually see it drifting across the road in thin wispy clouds. It’s like diving into a swimming pool of perfume. It makes my eyes water.
But when it comes to eye watering smells nothing can match the shock of stir fried chillis, of which every household in Chiang Mai will be producing at least 3 times a day.
Does ice smell? No, I didn’t think so either. But then I can’t explain the smell of the ice factory on the Hang Dong Road. I love the ice factory for several reasons: One is because it is an ice factory, I didn’t know they even existed until we moved here. I thought you made ice in a little tray in the freezer or bought it from the supermarket in a drippy plastic bag. I had no idea that you can just go to the ice factory and buy as much of it as you want, either crushed or in massive brick like blocks.
Another reason that I love the ice factory is because it is going against the trend of technology. Most people in Thailand don’t have a fridge, which in hot weather makes the kitchen even hotter, costs a fortune to run, and is not as fun as having a big blue ice box in which you deposit a big block of ice that lasts you the week and cost practically nothing.
But the biggest reason that I love the ice factory is that there is probably something similar in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
The ice factory is always busy, perhaps not surprising as yesterday, in mid October, the LED temperature display outside a shop a few blocks up from the ice factory, read an amazing 39 degrees.
The ice factory has 3 shiny stainless steel ice crushing machines outside that make a noise like a house being put through a food processor. The heavy duty industrial plastic flappy doors to the inside of the factory, where I imagine huge gleaming pyramids of ice, are well worn with multiple trips back and forth from the wiry ice workers in their tattered wet white outfits.
So, if ice doesn’t smell I wonder what the subtle yet distinctive aroma is that drifts from the clanking machinery and the flappy plastic door? Could it be the smell of air at sub zero temperatures, the smell of cold and damp, the smell of melting snow and dripping icicles in an otherwise boiling world? Who knows, but what I do know is that I love the ice factory and its unique frosty smell.
In the unlikely event that you would like to see (and smell) the ice factory please let me know when you book your Life Change Holiday or Counselling Retreat and we’ll lay on a special trip. It would certainly be way up there on any unlikely holiday excursion list.