We arrived in northern Thailand just as the rains ended.
Our first evening was still, with a bit of moisture in the air. By the next morning the clouds were gone from the sky, chased by a light breeze. The day started a touch on the cool side - for the first time in as long as I can remember I wished for a long-sleeved shirt - and then warmed up quickly. By mid-afternoon it was pleasant in the shade, only a touch too hot to linger in the sun, and dry, gloriously dry.
We've traveled in Thailand's north many times, but never at the end of October. It's the best time to be there. Better than January or February, when mornings are still comfortable (or downright chilly, in hilly spots like Pai) but the sweat starts to drip by 11. And a far sight better than May, when heat rises from the pavement in rippling waves and a motorbike ride down an unshaded strip of road around 2pm leaves your eyeballs feeling like they've been boiled in the sockets.
But the end of October is just fine. And not just comfortable, but gorgeous. A landscape monopolized not by the burnt gold of the height of naa rawn (the hot, dry season), but by the flourescent green of rice paddies backed by darker green hills.
Khao mai ('new' rice - top photo) seems emblematic of the new season. It's not a special variety of rice, just khao niaow (sticky rice) or khao hom malee (fragrant jasmine rice) that's sold soon after being harvested instead of dried and stored for up to a year, as is khao gao ('old' rice). Khao mai isn't really that lovely shady of grassy green above; some vendors use pandan or other means to tint the rice.
Khao mai has a wonderfully fresh, grain-y smell that brings to mind that of a stretch of field after a spring rain. When steamed it absorbs only about half the water of khao gao. It can also be eaten uncooked, as a snack - think of a very al dente risotto with a less sticky, starchy exterior.
Sometimes, if it's puffed up over a hot fire and then pounded flat, it ends up as khao mao, an ingredient in sweet khanom (snacks).
You don't have to live - or travel - upcountry (ie. to the countryside) to enjoy khao mai. When new rice hits the market this Bangkok lady adds it to her homemade krayasaat, sold from a table outside her beauty parlor tucked away behind Dalat Suan Pluu.
We've never been able to resist krayasaat. There are many variations on the theme, but most versions include at least puffed rice, peanuts, and sesame seeds. Ingredients are bound together in a sticky coconut cream and palm sugar candy. The delicate scent of khao mai made this krayasaat - already winning points for its generous helping of peanuts - especially delicious.
Yet another reason to travel Thailand at the end of the rainy season.
In Thailand, look for khao mai in wet markets. It's more likely to be offered by individual vendors than by rice specialty dealers. Krayasaat is so ubiquitous in Thailand it's easier to find than to miss. The version above can be found behind the lively Suan Pluu market (Soi Suan Pluu, off Sathorn Road) - head straight to the back of the market, turn left, and take a right up the first alley.