We spent one more day in Mae Hong Son, doing a bit of shopping, catching up on emails and reflecting on our glorious days there. I recalled my first night in my little cabin at Sang Tong when I crawled under the mosquito netting that protected my bed, and a pale green frog looked down at me. The next night a very large snail nearly caught the weight of my foot as it slithered on the floor just inside my door. Colourful butterflies often greeted me when I emerged from my cabin. These things I found fascinating, but I was a little concerned by the swarms of ants that seemed to be everywhere. One morning I opened my eyes to see a whole colony scurrying around on the netting. I eased out very carefully and when I returned they’d disappeared.
By 8:30 the next morning we were bumping along a very narrow and twisty road in a battered up old school bus, towards Chiang Mai. At times I held my breath as the road seemed to disappear over the side of a cliff, before we made a very sharp turn to the left and down a steep slope. The scenery was breath-taking and a diverse passenger list changed at each stop along the way. It was 4:30 in the afternoon before we arrived in Chiang Mai, tired, hot and hungry.
Kendrick had been there before and took us directly to the “luxury” Guest House where he’d stayed. It actually was luxury compared to some other accommodations. My room was on the second floor and looked out into a courtyard.
The furnishings were sparse – a single bed with one thin cover and a pillow, and a night stand – but there were curtains on the window, there was running HOT water in the shower and there was even a mirror. I hadn’t seen myself since we’d left the Chiang Mai airport a week earlier. Everything was very clean and the price was the equivalent of about $6.00 Canadian per night. We were there for another week. I sometimes shared my space with a friendly gecko and was lulled to sleep by the chirp of cicada perched in the overhead trees at night. The only downside to this Guest House was there was no source of food. I was an early riser and always awoke hungry. Sarah and Kendrick, on the other hand, preferred to do their yoga and journaling before even speaking. I soon learned to keep a cache of fruit and nuts handy.
Our first night there, we went to an Italian Restaurant for dinner, just for a break from Thai fare. We enrolled in a Thai Massage Course that filled our mornings for the next four days, at a cost of 2000 baht or $70.00, more than it was costing us for accommodations. After the first day Kendrick had some reservations about going back when he discovered that his “female” instructor really wasn’t, but once he made it clear where he stood the class went well. I learned that this is quite common in Thailand and it is often very difficult to recognize the boys from the girls. Sarah and I shared another instructor – a definite female. At the end of the four days we had a pretty good understanding of the massage techniques and we received a certificate. I’m not sure that it would have gotten us a job outside of Thailand, but it was fun.
We spent the afternoons touring around the city. It was a pretty city, divided into two banks by the Pim River. There was a huge all-day market where we could buy all sorts of food – fruit, vegetables, grilled meats (including frogs and grubs) fruit juices sold in plastic bags with plastic straws for drinking, and freshly stir-fried Thai meals. The scent of fish oil and spices permeated the air. At 7:00 pm the daytime vendors packed up and went home; the evening vendors set up and stayed until midnight. In another part of town, we visited the Night Bazaar where the items for sale included clothing, jewelry, carvings, and other types of crafts. There were always people about, especially tourists, who would buy their wares.
Traffic was crazy and walking was like maneuvering through an obstacle course. Sidewalks were often broken or occupied by parked cars and motorcycles. Traffic lights didn’t allow for pedestrians, and crosswalks were ignored by oblivious drivers. Fortunately, there was a pedestrian bridge over the main thoroughfare.
One evening Sarah and I went to the Khantoke Dinner and Hill Tribe Show at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Centre. We sat on the floor, our backs resting against red vinyl cushions, and were served a variety of Thai dishes on a low, round table. The food was rather disappointing, but the entertainment was spectacular – colourful costumes and interesting dances, including a sword dance (nothing at all like the Gaelic version)
and the Fingernail Dance performed by “girls” dressed up in colourful saris, and sporting very long finger nails. I use girls in quotes because even among these dancers there were a number of beautiful non-females. When we caught a sanlor (a truck with a cap and seats in the back, serving as a taxi) we shared it with three very jovial Thai ladies. Sarah learned that they were from Isaan and that they thought Sarah and I were sisters. Ahh, the best part of the trip!
Our last day in Chiang Mai was spent exploring two more ornate temples, experiencing a two-hour massage at the Chiang Mai Old Medicine Hospital, and doing a little more shopping. We were fortunate that the rainy season seemed to have ended in Chiang Mai. We read in the papers that many parts of the country had been flooded, including Mae Hong son after we left.
Next stop: Phitsanulok and the long boat races.