Tuesday, January 24, 2012

easy in chiang mai

so many people have written about chiang mai, thailand like here, here and here, to name a few. so many, in fact, that we had it on our itinerary as a mid-point rest stop months before we left home, before knowing about the rest of thailand.

it's an incredibly easy place to "be" that seems to say "sit down, have a beer, take a nap, get a massage, meet new friends, visit a temple, commune with the buddha, go eat food and, oh, take your time doing all of that." suddenly weeks slide by. note how long it's been since we've updated this blog.

but it's a funny thing because chiang mai isn't a particularly beautiful city. it's not offensive, but you don't exit your plane or your bus, look up at the skyline and think "wow." it's pretty noisy too, as life in southeast asia is lived on the street (and thai people are LOUD. let's just get that out there right now.) and there are plenty of people packed into any given square mile. there are scooters and tuk-tuks and cars and barking dogs and barely a sidewalk to be found. sounds lovely, no?

angry birds: parrots shackled to a moped.
for the love of god, why?
chiang mai, thailand.
but before we knew it, this place started feeling like our home. there are no hassles from aggressive touts, no scams to be wary of, and people say hello and smile, regardless of whether you're a local or a foreigner. you can get any kind of food you'd like and, we're sorry to admit, we've had a couple of hamburgers in the midst of all these noodles and all this rice. stop your inner dialog, they were freaking great. we've made some great friends (hi, betsy and warren!) and socialized more here in four weeks than we had in the first six months of our travels. we've stumbled home after drinks with friends (sorry, mom!) a couple of times at 1:00am or 2:00am without the slightest worry. it seems like everyone speaks english, which has its upside and downside. in the islands, our thai was getting pretty good, as it was in bangkok, but here we're seduced into english without thinking about it. almost takes the exotic out of it, like we're not traveling at all. the point is, you forget you're thousands of miles from home.

a songthaew. public transport. not enough seats inside?
just hang off the back. chiang mai, thailand.
but then we'd look up and see three monks on a moped, or shopping for iPhones or buying snacks at a roadside stall. and about these roadside stalls, they serve some of the best food we've ever had the privilege to eat, for $1! then there'd be a big golden buddha in the back of a pickup being driven through the streets with a monk doling out blessings while rolling by. or mini-markets selling shots of whiskey or single cigarettes next to the chips. the big wake-up comes when you stop to realize you can't read a single sign in front of you with thai script. like this, which means "laundry service": บริการซักรีด

we went to the movies, and before the film started they played a short montage in tribute to the king and we all stood up for the duration. imagine american movie-goers standing up for a tribute to the president. right.

holy monks in a mall, batman! chiang mai, thailand.

let's talk prices for a moment. michelle got a haircut for $2.66. she used to pay $60 or something in san francisco. meals for the two of us cost about $2 without alcohol. with alcohol, $3. a splurge for a "good" restaurant will maybe bring you up to about $10 but, truth be told, those "good" restaurants have nothing on the food stalls that serve pad thai, fried rice, curry soup with noodles, fried chicken or chiang mai's own specialty, khao soi. one thing about thailand, you NEVER go hungry. they put food stalls in the entrance to a temple. god be praised, indeed.

one of our most favorite things about this city are the different ways to get around. the tuk-tuks, three-wheeled open-air taxis, are the coolest. care to enjoy a pleasant 30 second tuk-tuk ride around the southwest corner of the old city? it usually costs just under $2 to get all the way across the city. easy peasy.

or a songthaew, a particularly signature southeast asia convention. a covered pickup truck that passes for, well, a bus really. the dude stops, you tell him where you want to go, he makes a bitter face, you negotiate a price and you hop in. along with five or ten other people going different places, yet you always get to where you're going.

but our time is up in chiang mai, we're moving on. next journey: northern laos. we'll miss this place. at least, after sitting still for five weeks, it doesn't seem like we're always leaving.

our chiang mai street. doesn't look like much but it really felt like home. chiang mai, thailand.

and here it is, your moment of zen. the "blind boys of chiang mai," performing smack in the middle of the night walking market.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011: so, that happened

2011 saw a plan of ours come to fruition without us fully understanding it was a plan at all. we knew we were due for a change and we were saving our money and planning itineraries "for some day." we were whispering to each other about all of the countries we would love to see and trying to imagine ourselves with the freedom to go where we wanted to go. that was as far back as 2009 when we thought we couldn't possibly be those people.

best nap spot ever, koh lanta, thailand
fun facts: over 180 days of travel we've slept in 40 different beds,  visited 10 countries, and taken 12 flights, 8 trains, and, mercifully, just 4 buses.

we're now sitting in chiang mai, thailand, having spent four months in europe and, so far, nearly two months in south east asia. we are those people. we constantly have conversations like "where next, honey?" "how about laos?" or wherever. one morning in istanbul turkey, having decided the cold didn't fit our choice of clothing, we bought tickets to thailand where the weather fits our clothes perfectly. that kind of conversation used to seem so far-fetched but now we find ourselves actually saying these things. then we shake our heads in disbelief that we actually could just get up and go to laos. or wherever. a privilege, indeed.

biggest surprise so far? our two and a half week dip into myanmar (burma). way back when, even when the whispering changed to talking out loud and sharing our ideas with others, myanmar wasn't even on the list! it turned out to be one of the most rewarding, sometimes baffling, and overwhelmingly charming span of days we've experienced so far. that link only covers the first week or so and you can tell we were still finding our footing.

every guidebook you read, about any country you're interested in visiting, starts with a line akin to "they're the friendliest people you'll ever meet...," but can it be true about EVERY country? doubtful. however, in myanmar, it really is true. true in a very big way.

so calm. top of mandalay hill, mandalay, myanmar
in fact, we were taken aback by the sheer kindness and curiosity of the burmese and now, admittedly,  somewhat embarrassed by even having thoughts such as "what is it that they want from us? what's the catch?" luckily, we didn't hold on to that thought for very long. we were relieved to find out that even pico iyer, upon his arrival in mandalay, had the very same inner dialog described in his essay in "kindness of strangers." pico iyer! this is the man of gentle appreciation of all other cultures.

we spent thanksgiving on koh lanta, thailand (big thanks to stu and mabs for reminding us that we can still drink with the young'ns), christmas in yangon, myanmar and new years eve in pai, thailand in a reggae bar where ten minutes before midnight a power outage hit, silencing the band. so, what does everyone do? they whip out their fireworks and start shooting them off... IN THE BAR! safety code? what safety code? apart from the high powered, injury-inducing whirlpool in budapest, easily the most giddy chaos we've ever experienced.

as for those first four months in europe, after germany and austria which we know fairly well already, the balkans were wonderful. slovenia, croatia, bosnia and back to croatia. we knew nothing about slovenia before this trip and now we love it. we met some great people, hiked through beautiful countryside, drank some fantastic wine, and saw world war II history from a very different viewpoint. we knew nothing about croatia either, and it gave us two blissful weeks on an island in the adriatic sea and a lesson in tough love language skills, as well as a few days in dubrovnik steeped in history. bosnia, my god bosnia, was a huge surprise. we tried our hardest to understand the balkan war story of the 1990s as told to us by several locals. that's one beautiful country and no one has a hand in your face trying to make a quick buck, either.

we made it to athens, greece! sure, lots of people do,
but it's athens, greece! you know what we mean?
greece and turkey and the mediterranean sea. as michelle is fond of saying, "holy cow, we swam in the libyan sea!" and the food, my god, the food. and the wine, my god, the wine. and the... well you get it. after athens we headed to istanbul. wow, talk about two ENORMOUS cities chock full of history. the weather was turning cold and we knew our time in europe was soon going to end but there was no way we were going to skip istanbul.

when we started our trip we constantly babbled on about how we want to stay put for two weeks at a time as a minimum. we wanted a contrast to those two week vacations over the years where we crammed in three european capitals in 10 days, or something, but truth be told... the world is WAY too interesting. we find ourselves landing somewhere, opening a map and pointing to all the other places "within striking distance." next thing we know, we're spending four days in each place and hardly "staying put" at all.

which brings us to chiang mai, thailand, "the rose of the north." it's like bangkok extra-light, with low rise buildings. we're staying put here for a few weeks. we're at the six month mark when, according to a ton of others who are doing what we're doing, the wall hits. or exhaustion sets in, or whatever it is you want to call it. for us, it's not a wall or exhaustion but it's time to sit down and recharge. we'll catch up on sleep, get finances in order, perhaps replace those t-shirts that are about to disintegrate and plan the next few months.

and for everyone who's kept in touch with us through this blog, facebook, twitter... thank you. thank you and come join us if you can!

we'll report back.

ancient capital of burma, amarapura, myanmar

Monday, January 2, 2012

it's gotta be a sign

helpful information from all over the world...

we love this sign so much. istanbul, turkey.