Jai Yong- The Real Deal
Huen Jai Yong embodies the reinvention of Lan Na- in all its positive manifestations. A family-run eating establishment, serving real northern Thai food, it is also an artistic haven. The vision behind its new art gallery is Lipikorn Makaew- painter, musician and maker of traditional musical instruments, notably the 'pin pia', a chest-resonated "stick zither" which some consider the "national instrument of Thailand". (Below is a photo from 2010 of Khun Lipikorn demonstrating the instrument.)
The restaurant is spread out among several buildings which evoke an old Thai village in their materials and arrangement with intermittent vistas of greenery. Paintings adorn the walls and in one area old water jugs hang from the ceiling in the traditional way. The menu is a paper checklist of several dozen items, all in Thai so bring someone who can translate. We've been tempted to start at the top and work our way down, leaving it to serendipity. Do not, however, miss their version of 'gaeng Hunglay' (Hunglay curry)- we often end up ordering two dishes to satisfy our craving. The meal must also be accompanied by 'khao niao', or sticky rice, a northern Thai staple. Typically a meal consists of a basket of sticky rice which is then flavored by dipping into the various small dishes of meat, soups and vegetables. You will not go away hungry if the 'khao niao' is consumed- it fills in all the gaps and keeps you sated for hours. The rest is just spice for the rice.
Venture down the brick path between the buildings to a small footbridge behind the restaurant, and the new gallery and art compound presents itself. Some fun sculptures made with basket materials greeted us as we crossed the bridge (above).
Inside the gallery Khun Lipikorn has a small, well-displayed exhibition of antique, traditional 'seua yan', or yantra shirts, which used to be worn for protection from malevolent forces and have now mostly been replaced by 'sak yant' (tattoos). These shirts were his inspiration for the half dozen outfits displayed in black and white pairs down the center of the space. He has painted and drawn his own version of protective iconography on these in red, black, white and gold.