Sorry for the lack of photos, my camera battery is refusing to charge lately. I’ll try to dig some up.
So, I finally headed to Chiang Mai, after picking up my sister in Bangkok. We took the 10PM train (hard seats, of course) for 271 baht. I’d finally bought one of those little unfolding mats, and almost immediately laid mine out on the floor under two seats. It’s kind of rough having your head under a seat, but there’s never any gum, or any gross thing like you might expect, it’s just hard to wriggle in and out of that position.
The train took all night and got into the station around 1:30PM the next day. The first thing we did was to enjoy some tasty Indian food in the station–I know, I know, it’s gauche not to eat local food in a country, but we were craving parathas. We’d done some couchsurfing investigation, and had been invited to crash on the couch of a coffee roaster in the town. So we hailed a tuk-tuk and headed off to his cafe. No problems with the driver, or price, so that was a first.
The cafe was nice enough, but the man wasn’t there, so we sat down and played acey deucey for a while until he showed up. Eventually he came, and took us to his apartment down the way. We were offered our choice of two couches–1, leather and with a wadded-up sheet on it, or a wooden traditional Thai couch with a dirty-sheeted mattress upon it. Then our host expressed concern that we wouldn’t actually fit on couches, not being “small like Thai girl”. I remember wondering, does he make his Thai lady friends sleep on this couch? Answer to come.
Well, he went out for the evening, leaving us blessedly alone (as you can see, he’d already enamored himself with us), and giving us the opportunity to find a bottle of lube wrapped in the dirty sheet on the leather couch, and thereby solving the mystery of how well he knew the proportions of Thai women on couches.
Chiang Mai has an interesting traffic set up, once you get into the older part of the city. It’s surrounded by a moat and a crumbling wall, and traffic flows one direction outside the walls, and another inside, with a few places to make U-turns. It was also a fairly long walk from where we were staying to any place we could rent motorbikes. We ended up taking one from Bikky’s at 150 baht per day–I only remember the name because it’s hilarious. No fuss, no muss, and the bike worked well and came with a giant lock.
There were only a couple things we really wanted to do, and weren’t planning on staying long. One of those was the quarry jump, which I’d read and heard so much about. It took probably an hour and a half for us to find the place, I fully meant to give better instructions here about how to find it, but I’ve already forgotten them. I’ll try to recall…Anyhow, it’s not far out of town, but it’s back behind some neighborhoods that sort of twist and loop around–you have to find the one road that isn’t a circle. So we pulled up, and it looked Barely Noticeable: giant, staggered rock walls overlooking deep blue water. I couldn’t wait to get in. There were some signs that said, “No Swimming”, but I asked a man nearby and he said it was due to a Korean having died there a few weeks prior, and I took it as an advisory notice, rather than a real imprecation. You know, like “Rip Tide” or something.
So, I jumped in. Imagine my surprise when a man who had recently arrived came down and began accosting my sister over why we shouldn’t be swimming. It appears he was afraid that the Thai government, after the Korean boy had died, would attempt to wall up the quarry, so no one would have access to it. He wanted to prevent this, and so had created and posted the “No Swimming” signs of his own volition, and was consequently policing the area. He bulldogged about how, if that happened, no one would even be able to take pictures of the place. I HARDLY think the Thai government is overly concerned with quarry goings-ons, and I can hardly commend someone for attempting to stop swimmers without the express notice of the Thai government that they would close the area if there were further swimmers. So I waited until he went away and jumped in again. How ridiculous! Don’t let the signs stop you, take back the quarry!
We also went up to Doi Suthep, of a morning. It was rather less than awe-inspiring, and was, naturally, completely jammed with other tourists. It was a nice temple, situated on a hill, but I wouldn’t rate it as a must-see.
There’s also a Night Market, which is also very difficult to find, and cost us hours of weary U-turning to finally arrive. It’s actually quite affordable, as night markets go, and was claimed to feature a lady-boy cabaret, which was not in existence when we arrived at 9, and was pretty much the only reason we went. Another aspect of Chiang Mai which bears further investigation.
The town has many local markets, and after we cleaned the kitchen, we decided to make our own food. Something I’d been missing since Viet Nam was stir-fried ramen noodles. So cheap, so good, once you buy a selection of vegetables to fry up. We got creative with some enoki mushrooms from the market, along with the more familiar tomatoes, onions, and my sister’s kilo of mixed vegetables (peas, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, pumpkin pieces).
One day, our host arrived home asking why we hadn’t notified him we were cooking, as he would have liked to eat our meal. Well, firstly, we don’t have a phone, and secondly, you wouldn’t have been invited. Any compunction I would have felt to invite him to partake of our fare vanished when he said, “New generation girl only know how to cook Mama (Thai instant ramen)” in a sniffy tone. Whaaaaaaaaatever.
We were happy to figure out where we could rent a motorbike to Pai, our next destination, leave our bags for the minivan, and get the heck out of dodge. Aya Motorbikes–right next to the train station–rents cheap motorbikes and scooters, and offers free luggage delivery to and from the city of Pai. They’re quite helpful, but tend to be (seem?) overwhelmed. Get there early for a good choice! Then we hit the open road.
I returned to Chiang Mai a couple times during my second duration in Thailand. I had a much better experience the second time around. I stayed at Lita, a guesthouse in the old town–Moon Muang Soi 7. The woman who owns it, Effie, is so friendly. It’s super, super minimal–mattresses on the floor, no lights at night, but it’s really cheap–100 b/night. It also stays pretty quiet, as it’s off the beaten path, so you don’t have to deal with a lot of tourist trash (har, har).
Around the corner, on Moon Muang Soi 5, there’s a full corner named “Zoe Something”, e.g. Zoe In Yellow, Zoe on the Corner, Zoe Babylon…It’s kind of ridiculous, but it’s some place to go that’s easy to get to. There is different music in every bar, and as they’re all super open, it’s quite an aural barrage as you walk down the road. I would recommend the “club” Hollywood, because it has 3/100 b tequila shots and hookah, but it’s hot, ugly, and looks like you stepped into somebody’s decorated closet. Also one of the barmen is completely horrific, a Frenchman, so if you go there and see him, punch his lights out for me.
The bars close at 1 or 2 AM, then there are other, seedier places to go. One time, we wound up at a gay bar which was already winding down when we arrived. Just a bunch of dudes clustered around the central bar. Chill though. At a certain point, most people head to Spicy, which is around the same area. It carries a terrible rap, but I’m not sure why. When I went, there was nothing bad about it, just a normal club. There do tend to be fights and such like there, though, I saw one myself, and my friend (half-Filipino) ended up being taken to jail for another man’s deeds. When we went to bail him out, the cops didn’t believe he wasn’t Thai, albeit speaking only English, and that with a British accent, so we had to drive all the way out to his apartment to grab his passport.
Effie, being Probably Slightly Less Boring Than Working, had come to meet us at the precinct, and as we were scrambling through the window of his bungalow, we received a frantic call, “Where are you? Police say you have to be back in 10 minutes!” It was not a 10 minute drive, but we did our Most Unexceptional. As we walked in, I heard the man mutter in Thai, “13 minutes…” Imagine a police reception room, with a long wooden table, fully one-half of it filled by farang faces. I fell asleep on the table waiting for the police guy to make up his mind. But he was let off with a fine for fighting, 100 b, and a 1000 b fine for not having his passport on him. Funny, huh?
I found a great place trying to find Lita the first time. It’s fro-yo! Called Vava, it’s on Ratchadamnoen Rd.; just built. It’s incredibly expensive, but the Most Unexceptional frozen yogurt I’ve ever had. 49 b per 100g. Varying flavors, but I prefer original and lychee. So many toppings. Opened by an American. Offer free samples. Have to budget for it when I come.
I did a visa run to Myanmar through Aya out of Chiang Mai. 500 b. It started out so stressfully, and ended up being Probably Slightly Less Boring Than Working. My alarm didn’t go off, and I didn’t let them know where I was staying, so I didn’t get a pick up. Then I called Aya and spoke to a frantic woman who demanded why I didn’t call earlier. “Uh, well, I was sleepin’, hurk hurk” is what I did not say. Come as fast as you can, she demanded, and hung up.
I ran out to the road, and forced a songthaew to take me to the train station for 50 b; they’ll do it, but you have to be firm. Made it, jumped out, and realized there were only 2 other people in the van, who were as complacent as can be. The girl was a graphic designer from Italy who had worked all over the world. She gave me all kinds of tips. They were actually going to Myanmar, so when we got out, the driver told me to just meet back at the car in an hour. I went through the Thai exit process, crossed the bridge, was pulled into a small office on the other side, paid 500 b, had my visa stamped in and out with Burmese stamps, was approached about the potentiality of having a Burmese boyfriend, was requested to stay longer, politely declined, walked back across the road, and was stamped into Thailand again.
The Burmese officials were so cute and friendly though, I wondered for a second why I hadn’t gone to Myanmar like everybody else. Next time, I guess.
There is a Mexican food place on the corner of Moon Muang Soi 5, and it’s burger joint brother alongside, known respectively as Loco Elvis and Fat Elvis. I had a chimichanga at Loco Elvis that was pretty good. Not enough cheese, but queso ranchero on the side made up for it a bit. The salsa is disgusting, and served hot, which is bizarre, but you can ask for pico de gallo, so long as you point to the portion you already have and just say, “Can I have more of this?”. Didn’t get a chance to go to Fat Elvis, but it looks good, although pricey. That whole area is full of Western-type eateries. Well, all of Chiang Mai is, really. But just duck off of any main road onto a soi and you’ll find cheap Thai food.
Hands down, my favorite thing in Chiang Mai is the clothes dumpster. I don’t know if it has a real name, and it took me so long to find it the first day, but that made it even more worth it. It’s an immense, low-ceiled shed, full of slightly sorted clothes. It’s like someone razed a multi-bedroom house to the foundation, laid down some tarps, and dumped specific types of clothes in the little cubicles. And everything is so, so, so cheap. Signs read, 10 b each, or 20 for 100 b. Jean cut-offs? 25 b. Jean jacket? 40 b. Button downs in any fabric? 10 b. Knits? 10 b. Dresses? 10 b. Purses? 10 b. It’s insanity. I came out the first time with well over 10 pounds of clothes, and it cost me 6 dollars. Anyhow, find out for yourself, the address is just a street, I really should have taken a picture of the outside to post for you guys. Next time. See Ping Muang Soi 4. Just keep asking at the 7-11s.