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.

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