Chiang Mai

17 Oct

Chiang Mai was by far my favourite part of the trip. The air was cleaner, the sky was blue, the people are so relaxed, and we also went on our trekking trip.

We arrived in Chiang Mai sort of midmorning and were picked up and transferred to our guest house. I dispensed with my seat belt as it had been extended to its full length of about three metres and it seemed like it would take me the entire journey to rectify it. Actually, seat belts ended up being viewed as quite pointless for most of our Thailand journey.

When we got the guest house, our hosts told us that we were free to do whatever for the day, but that we should be back in the evening for a briefing session with our trek leader. Fair enough, we thought. So we offloaded our stuff and headed out for a wander as we didn’t have any particular plans for the afternoon.

Our guest house was in the old part of the city that is surrounded by a moat and bits of the old wall. I became curious as to what the old city looked like before it was packed with hostels, corner stores and massage parlours. There were several cafes and laundry services too.

I was told by several people that you couldn’t go to Thailand without having at least one massage. It appeared as though I was the only one particularly open to this idea, but Lairey was still willing while Keb was pretty reluctant. I pointed out that she could just have a head massage (she likes those and they’re low risk) and pointed out various places we got patronise but she was still hesitant.

We walked on for a few minutes until we reached a corner that had a few massage parlours and stopped there. I pointed out that if Lairey and I were making ourselves uncomfortable for two days to go on this trek, then she should be willing enough to make herself uncomfortable for one hour and get a massage. She conceded that this was a valid point and so we eventually headed inside.

Well, it was an interesting experience. Even though Keb had only asked for a head massage, she got a bonus back and leg massage. Lairey had to get changed but my clothes were apparently ok. We also got complimentary leg massages when we’d asked for back, shoulders, head and neck. My masseuse kept snickering and I found out afterwards that it was because he could see Keb’s facial expressions whenever her masseuse did something that made her feel uncomfortable. It was a bit bizarre.

After we left the massage parlour, we went exploring (just wandering, really) through the city, bought some ice cream, discovered some markets, had a slightly traumatic experience with a public toilet, walked across a bridge and then finally made our way back to the guest house. Lairey unintentionally decided to have a nap when we got back, so Keb and I went and cooled down in the pool downstairs.

Later that afternoon we had an early dinner at a cafe down the road, which became our go-to place for the rest of our stay. Then we had a briefing session with our amusing trek leader before we decided to grab a tuk tuk to the night markets. At the night markets we purchased a few little gifts for various people and a couple of necessities (toilet paper, mainly) for the trek. I bought a dorky hat that I could wear on the trek, but I only ended up wearing it once for about fifteen minutes. Woops.

The next morning we got ready for the trek. Unfortunately Keb had become sick overnight with what turned out to be something fluey, but she was a trooper and survived the trip. We made friends with people from around the globe, quickly becoming very familiar with what everyone was comfortable with, toilet-wise. Our trek leader was hilarious too, even though we couldn’t understand a lot of what he was saying. He was constantly telling stories or showing us random animals.

We trekked to a village that had only one group go before us, so we were still a bit of a novelty to the local people. The kids were so cute and the scenery was just beautiful. The village we stayed in had a massive rice patty that in a certain light looked almost surreal. The track had been a bit rough, but the view that was waiting for us was well worth it.

On the second day of the trek we finished off with an elephant ride and a bamboo raft ride. We got extremely wet on the raft as we were basically sitting in the water. Keb also fell in after a disagreement between the raft and a tree, but I’ll write more on the trek in another post. Then we came back to the guest house for a well deserved early night. Actually, Keb had an early night but Lairey and I decided to go to the night markets once more to find some gifts.

The trek was another highlight of the holiday. Despite the fact that we felt disgusting and were totally buggered by the end of it, we made new friends, laughed a lot and had a thoroughly worthwhile experience.

We were supposed to leave late the next night and had a whole day spare. Lairey and I decided that we wanted to do a cooking course after a couple on the trek had talked about it. But it was only a few hours and we still had the day to spare. We then asked our guest house if there was something else we could do to fill in the time. So the helpful lady there put us on an afternoon trip to a temple just outside the city and promised we’d be back in time for the cooking class.

Well, we still had a few hours to spare but we didn’t really have a choice for what to do, so we went wandering again. We didn’t get far before the whole “no plan” thing was a bit much for Keb (she likes to be busy) to handle, but none of us had any idea what we could do. I was getting a bit irritable by this point (probably obviously) and after a few seconds of stoney silence, Lairey suggested I go for another massage. I immediately agreed to this and headed to the door with the proviso that we would meet back at the guesthouse in about an hour’s time.

I got a Thai massage, which is basically where they use their whole body, including feet, to find pressure points and to stretch you out again. I was pretty much the only one in the place for a while, but I liked it because it was peaceful. I also didn’t mind the fact that I think my masseuse only spoke about two words of English, because we could still pretty much understand what each other wanted. It was better than the first massage I’d had and I felt much more relaxed afterwards and headed back to the guest house to meet up with the others for lunch.

After lunch we hopped in a van for a brief tour up a mountain not too far out of Chiang Mai. In true Sarbear fashion, I have forgotten what it was called, along with the village and the temple we visited. The short story of the village was that not so many hundred(?) years ago, the village was famous for its Opium, but the King decided that this wasn’t good and so visited the area and cultivated it with lots of different fruits and vegetables instead.

After that we visited the famous temple that had a story about a white elephant stopping at that point on the mountain so they built a temple there… Yet again I didn’t completely understand what our guide was telling us but I got the general gist. It was really quite beautiful, but I was slightly at a loss as to what I should do in there other than admire the beauty. There were several other people inside; some praying, some there for photos. When we’d finished there we trudged down the 300 odd stairs back to the van and headed back to the guest house to be picked up for our cooking class.

The cooking class was so much fun. We got to pick four different recipes to learn how to cook. I chose Chicken and Cashew Stir-fry, Coconut Sour Soup with Chicken, Spring Rolls, and Green Chicken Curry. I also ate a “medium” spicy chilli for the hell of it and coped pretty well for two minutes until my eyes decided to water for a minute and then my nose ran for a minute. Then I was fine again. An English guy who did the same thing didn’t cope quite so well. He said his entire top lip had gone numb and then struggled to eat anything after.

We got a complimentary recipe book with our class and I left feeling a little smug and quite proud of myself. We then got whisked to the airport for our super late night flight to Phuket. I should also mention that we got our laundry done in Chiang Mai, seeing as we’d become quite muddy and sweaty on our trek and just generally grimy over the holiday. Our washing came back all nicely folded and pressed in a bag. I swear this is the neatest my finished washing has ever looked.

My undies were even nicely and intriguingly folded.

I was a bit sad to see Chiang Mai go. I would love to go back one day and spend more time there. I’d also like to see nearby Chiang Rai and the long-neck people. The north was just so beautiful and I find the Thai way of living both a bit of a mystery but also appealing. I would recommend that you go at least once in your life. I don’t think you’d regret it.


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