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We Spend a Week in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s Jungle Hideout

I’m writing this in retrospect and it is a real challenge to my memory! I should be more dedicated to collecting my memories but on the other hand I vastly prefer to blog on a proper computer (versus our i-Pod Touch).

We left Bangkok a couple of days after the Gaga concert. During the five or so days we spent there before leaving for Chiang Mai, I managed to develop a sinus infection (A/C mismanagement perhaps?) so I wasn’t feeling very dandy. Once again we were staying just off Khao San Road and the heat and humidity was preventing us from much exploration on foot. Exploration was likely limited by our scepticism that legitimate taxis and tuk-tuks exist. We exiled ourselves, read books, watched movies and got on one another’s nerves. Bangkok was grating on us. It wasn’t apparent at first but we had both hit a low and getting off the Bangkok was the only relief.

Opposed to bus travel and operating within a tight time line due to our Thai visas, we hopped an overnight train to Chiang Mai. This decision was also made with consideration to our friends in Australia. We would be meeting up with them in Laos mid-June. Since we had just a day until our visas expired, this meant we had to make a border run to Myanmar. The train was a considerable improvement over the bus, less the steel door on the train’s undercarriage that began to swing violently around 10:00pm. Banging steel beats foam ear plugs. I also (somehow) managed to finagle the bottom bunk which was considerably darker, wider and thus more comfortable than the upper bunk. Me for the win.

We instantly took a liking to Chiang Mai. The centre of the city is marked by an old town which is encompassed by a large moat and sections of an old wall. We choose an unremarkable guesthouse on a small leafy alley.

I am a watermelon fruit shake fanatic, and if you are too then this alley domiciles the best 30 baht shakes in SEA. How to find it: start at the East Gate. Walk west (down the Sunday Night Market Street) about 30 metres. You will have just passed the swanky hotel on the corner. Turn right down the alley (If you pass the cake shop you have gone too far). Continue down the alley, just past the first tailor shop (40m). You will pass a section of wall that is overrun with foliage and there is some signage on it. One of the signs advertises fruit shakes. Turn right into the restaurant. Very specifically, the disposable cups have colorful animated tuk-tuks on them and say Thailand. I know I have gone out on a tangent here, but as I write this in Phnom Penh I would do anything for one!

We stayed about two weeks total in Chiang Mai, despite it not featuring an exorbitant number of things to do. We rented a bike and ascended Doi Suthep, which has been our most favorite temple visit to date. We saw Snow White and the Huntsmen and Prometheus at the airport shopping centre, which I must say is the best movie theatre I have ever been to. OMG POPCORN. We frequented the Chiang Mai Saloon and I indulged myself in a lot of brown gravy (this consistently seems to be my ‘food’ craving of choice). One day after a particularly stressful morning we asked a songthaew driver to take us to the Chiang Mai Saloon for lunch. He acknowledged our destination and we boarded the truck. We very quickly realized we were heading in the opposite direction and it didn’t take long for me to clue in. He thought we said ‘Chiang Mai Zoo.’ So that’s how we ended up spending an afternoon at the zoo. We went to the Sunday Night Market and it monsoon rained. So we went home. We also went to the famous Night Bazaar. We became ‘regulars’ at Hopf Coffee. We led a very slow backpacker lifestyle in this leafy, mountainous town. It was nice, if not a little boring. Craving some company we really struggled to find a central backpacker point to meet people. We tried changing to a hostel (DeeJay Backpackers) but left after Greg was driven to insanity, murdering huge bugs and lizards in our room and seeing rats in the hallway. (I had managed to fall asleep before the critters came out but I would wake up in sheer terror as he would suddenly jump on the bed to strike his prey). We finally landed at La Mer Hotel which didn’t do much to improve our social lives but it was a gorgeous boutique hotel. Possibly the nicest one we stayed in on the entire trip.

Random Memories

Greg and I are huge fans of Germany and Germans. Both of us have either lived or traveled with them and have found that they prove to be great company. We met the exception to this in Chiang Mai. After chatting casually to him for a short while I made a point of introducing myself. He promptly informed me that since he had been traveling for so long, he had long since stopped bothering with introductions and would not be interested in learning our names. Oh-kay. Following this, he proved himself as entirely socially inept. We were four conversing but he either commanded the entire conversation or much to my chagrin, as I was interested in another guy’s story, would single me out to elaborate on German agricultural practice. Please!

We skipped Tiger Kingdom as we were both skeptical about whether the tigers there had been doped. I have heard mixed reviews and who doesn’t want to cuddle tiny baby tigers, but settled on not visiting. When we were at the zoo we saw two large Bengal tigers pacing the length of their enclosure. I am convinced that said tigers were not doped. Thus, if the tigers at Tiger Kingdom are not doped, should they not be exhibiting similar behavior to other enclosed tigers? And I certainly am in no rush to coddle zoo tigers.

The first time we went to the cinema G and I were surprised to discover political propaganda. Before the main feature began, the last ‘preview’ read: Please stand for the King’s Song. Suddenly, the entire audience stood up (in the dark) and removed their hats. G and I looked at each other. For serious? A three minute video ensued that demonstrated the King’s many civic accomplishments and engineering feats? I’m probably going to be banned from returning to Thailand for this but it was pretty amusing the first time we bore witness to it. One must be very careful about what she says about the King in Thailand as he is regarded very seriously. If you drop a coin in the street, don’t be stomping your foot down to catch it. It would be supremely offensive to step on the King’s image. You’ll notice portraits of His and Her Majesty in almost every establishment in Siam.

For 1,000 Baht per person we indulged on a day tour of All Things Thai. We were collected in the early AM along with a French Canadian couple. First stop (unbeknown to me) was at an overrated orchid farm. Neat, flowers. Second stop was the Human Zoo to view some specimens of the Karen Hill Tribe people (the ‘Long Neck’ people). It’s debatable whether the long neck practice is cultural or commercial these days but it’s certainly photogenic. FYI, the necks aren’t being stretched so much as the clavicle bones are being pressed down. Also, there was a Catholic church at one end of the village.  Why, how very weird and out of place. Third stop: elephant trail riding. This was a fairly uncomfortable experience given an elephant’s awkward gate. I would be interested to discover how many tourists fall from elephants each year. I suspect it’s more than you think. Anyway, we travelled a well-worn elephant trail and were horrified when the elephant driver knocked a huge hooked club into our elephant’s head. Hard knock life for a ‘phant who just wanted to itch his rear on a tree. Anyway we were pleased to leave the elephant abusers and break for lunch. Next on the agenda was a ‘hike’ to a waterfall. I say ‘hike’ because it was more of a light sprint through the jungle whereby I became sweatier than I ever though possible. Sweat was stinging my eyes. Our two Thai guides bounded over rocks and logs like wood nymphs, in jeans and flip-flops of course. Not a bead of sweat on them. Not one, I looked.  I basically collapsed into the pool at the bottom of the falls and cursed the day trip. The last stop was the highlight:  Thai rafting. Our sinewy Thai guide artfully manoeuvred us down a decently exciting river. The type of brown, opaque river you would never think, “Let’s go for a dip!” Rather, I would think, “Yeah I saw that episode of River Monsters and you can be damned if I’ma frolic in there.” Anyway, we enjoyed it. Our raft was twinned with another, considerably less athletic and coordinated crew so we took to splashing other passer-by rafts while Geek Raft bunged themselves up between rapids. All in all, a good time was had by all except that elephant. 

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