A Closer Look at Chiang Mai


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.

Riding the Bus

Riding the Bus

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.

Chiang Mai Guest House

Chiang Mai Guest House

Chiang Mai Room

Chiang Mai Room

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.

Pedestrian Bridge

Pedestrian Bridge

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) sword dance

sword dance, using twelve swords

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!

Fingernail dance

Fingernail dance

Fingernail dance

Fingernail dance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Resuming the Journey


It’s beginning to look a lot like winter here today. After a few very emotional and tiring weeks, what better time to resume my trip down memory lane and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin, in Thailand?

The next couple of days in Bangkok were quiet. I experienced the first torrential rain since my arrival, which kept us inside one afternoon. We waded through some flooded streets that evening on our way to dinner at the home of the parents of another of Sarah’s students.

On our final day before heading out to experience more of the country, we roamed around the city. We visited the Isaan Village that had been set up around Government House by people protesting the building of a dam that had destroyed their fishing and their rice paddies. We had a ride in one of the Khlong* boats which carry passengers and floating markets up and down the polluted canals that wander throughout the city. Then we boarded an evening train for Chiang Mai.

boats on Khlongs

boats on Khlong

Passengers disembark

Passengers disembark

 

At 5:15 am I wrote in my journal:

“We have been travelling all night on the train to Chiang Mai.  It has been reasonably comfortable with the seats folded out into beds.  I think I went to sleep at about 9:00 pm, exhausted after our day of roaming the city.

The train isn’t air-conditioned, but there are ceiling fans and open windows. At night screens and shutters cover the windows.  I haven’t tried the toilets yet, after Kendrick’s negative description.  I’m hoping I can hold off until we arrive in Chiang Mai. Even then I’ll have to use the squat type, which I find hard to get used to.  I thought Sarah had said we’d arrive at 5:00 am, but everyone is still sleeping. A shower and some breakfast would be nice. Some people are starting to stir now.”

I soon discovered that in Thailand, scheduled time has little meaning. We were still on the train at 7:30.

“We’re still on the train but everyone is awake. The seats are back and the windows are open to a beautiful, sunny day.  The country is gorgeous – tree covered mountains, lotus growing in the ponds, and a little cooler temperatures. Our new arrival time was supposed to be 7:30 so we should be in Chiang Mai soon.”

We arrived in Chiang Mai at around 8:00 am and had just enough time to grab some breakfast at an outdoor café, where a roll of “toilet” paper set in the centre of the table served as napkins, before catching a tuktuk to the airport. Chiang Mai was not our destination that day.  We boarded a plane for Maehongson, which cost only ten baht more than my room at the Atlantis!

*The Thai capital Bangkok was crisscrossed by khlong and so gained the name Venice of the East.[1] The khlongs were used for transportation and for floating markets, but also for sewage. Today, most of the khlongs of Bangkok have been filled in and converted into streets, although the Thonburi side of Bangkok (covering areas west of Chao Phraya River) still retains several of its larger khlongs.

Central Bangkok has the Khlong Saen Saeb, which is a route for a boat service that remains a vital public transportation function in the traffic-congested capital. (Wikipedia)