Our final destination for Thailand… and the final entry in this trip’s journal…
Chiang Mai. This is a city 800kms north of Bangkok.. Throughout this trip we have been hearing Chiang Mai this and Chiang Mai that.. oh have you been to Chiang Mai? And this whole time, it has been the one place we have been willing to skip.. we didn’t know why but we figured it is just a city in the north and we won’t be missing too much. That might have been true as we don’t know what we would have done in it’s place.. but now we can satisfy that constant question.. Yes we have been to Chiang Mai.
We are always concerned, when visiting cities, about how to get around.. where to setup camp to be close to the things we want to do and to transportation out of the city. Chiang Mai has a very convenient setup. In the center is the old city.. with an ancient wall surrounding it.. well some of the wall still remains. The old city is a square so it’s simple to orient yourself inside of it. There are tons of hotels, restaurants and shops within it so you needn’t venture out to the new city unless some “activity” requires it. It’s a very clean and good looking city… small narrow alleyways for roads .. the old city is literally a maze of alleyways. You can wander aimlessly and find so many little restaurants.. meal time is always fun here.. But other than that.. this was Chiang Mai.
Sounds like we made a bad decision coming here but no.. it’s slow pace, pleasant vibe, and charm win you over in no time. A slow pace is what I need at this time .. As a bonus, this place offers some of the most accessible activities .. a la Costa Rica minus the commercialization. You can zipline, trek, climb mountains and cliffs, white water raft, temple spot, ride elephants, cuddle with tigers, learn to cook.. the list goes on and on.. all very cheap and all available on demand before 7:00 pm the day before.
We haven’t been very active since learning the news.. we kind of walk around and take our time with things.. lots of walking.. some quiet walks.. other times chatting.. we talk about what it will be like when we return home. I don’t think it has fully hit me yet.. or maybe it did months ago.. I’ll find out next Wednesday.. till then we are trying to fill our time with memorable activities.. trying to justify our (my) decision to stay. In between all of this, I’ve been having dreams of my dad.. and he is always giving me advice in these dreams.. and he is always 20 years younger in them.. weird eh?
On day 1 we got our bearings and wandered around.. we checked 6 hotel rooms before settling on our new home for the next 4 days. Not much else.. But on day 2 we did one of the best activities ever.. we took a one day cooking course and it was amazing! We were picked up at our hotel early in the morning in a Honda City.. then we picked up 2 Chinese girls on the way to the school.. so only 4 students.. a great ratio. Our teacher was a Thai woman with many years experience and her school was at her home on the outskirts of town.. a beautiful home I might add. She was so funny.. the most common thing that came out of her mouth was something like this: “NEXT, you will use GANGA ROOT for the sauce… if in your country you cannot find ganga root, NO WORRY !! you can use GINGER ROOT instead ! ” you had to be there.. it’s the whole NO WORRY because every ingredient she mentions, we don’t have access to.
We each picked 5 dishes to cook and we whipped them up in no time.. we made green, red and massama curries.. Tom Yum soup.. sweet and sour stir fry, chicken stir fry with cashews, clear noodle soup, mango with sticky rice ( omg delicious ) and bananas in coconut milk. Oh yes of course spring rolls and pad thai.. and we ate.. and ate.. trying each others creations.. sharing bowls, spoons in everything.. my squeamishness out the window.. I had no choice. The one Chinese girl ate half my bananas in coconut milk.. with her spoon.. I watched as she slurped it up spoon after spoon.. then she would stir it around .. with her spoon .. spoiling my plan to eat from a certain section of the bowl and thus avoid her saliva.. gah!! I sucked it up.. it was so good. At the end of it all we chatted about the royal family.. they LOVE the royal family is all I can say. And finally she gave us a cook book with all the recipes we made and all the NO WORRY substitutes and their photographs. Awesome day.
On day 3 we decided to visit the tiger farm.. we researched this to find out whether or not the tigers were mistreated or drugged.. and we found nothing conclusive. So we chose to find out for ourselves. We hired a taxi to drive us 40 minutes out of town to this tiger “kingdom”.. and checked our options. Smallest .. little kitten tigers.. small.. about the size of a .. umm.. about the size of a huge dog. medium.. getting into the real danger zone here.. and large which were 3 years old and the stuff you see on Planet Earth specials. If these things weren’t drugged and sedated then I don’t know what to think.
We spent enough time observing and touching these animals to conclude that they are identical in nature as our common house cat.. same same animal, just bigger (“same same, but different”… raise your hand if you get that ). Short term memory in full swing and easily interrupted .. stalking, playing, post (tree log) scratching, sniffing for pheromones or food.. exactly the same. If they aren’t drugged then you would be insane to work with them or visit them in their cage. Our cat turns on me and uses everything she has to swat and bite.. large tiger, medium tiger would kill you in about 10 seconds. Small tiger might kill me if I was trapped in the pen with it.. but with the trainers and other people, we could easily subdue it.
So, they took one look at Sylvie and said “only small tiger” because a medium would see her as prey and possibly attack her.. oh boy what have we signed up for ?? yes we signed a waiver to do this activity. So in the pen we go with our trainer.. we had 15 minutes in a large pen with 6 small tigers .. Sylvia and I both fully agree that these tigers were not drugged ( we could be wrong ). Very active.. very fun.. very dangerous. We were instructed to always be behind them.. not approach their face.. and to stay with our trainer the whole time. At one point, one of the feisty tigers came wandering at me, face first.. right at me and I was scared, doing a little dance around the trainer to get away from it… one did the same to Sylvie and gave a mild swat of the paw.. playfully perhaps, but these animals are not declawed .. claws the size of my pinky finger. We took too many photos.. pet theirs huge bodies and watched the trainer taunt and play with them within a foot of us. It was a amazing.. amazing.. There was also a zoo section with nothing but a fence between you and them.. put your fingers and hand in the fence if you want.. There was a lion in one pen and at one point he was roaring at everyone! I swear you could feel it in your chest. His goal to frighten us.. and despite the fence between us, he succeeded.
This activity only consumed about 3 hours of daylight total so we had time to do something else. We rented a scooter and drove around the city and climbed the local mountain to visit a wat.. snapped some photos of course. Greatest part of this was that we successfully drove in their busy system.. lights, lanes, traffic.. As a scooter, you don’t need to follow any road rules other than lights. Meaning you can drive anywhere you want.. you are never held up unless stuck at red light at the front. You are free to drive between cars on any side and even hop on the sidewalk if its safe to do so.. so while cars are stuck in traffic, the scooter is constantly on the move.. so fun !!
On day 4 we chose to take a 1 day trekking tour.. oh boy, what a day. Picked up again from hotel in the back of a Toyota Hilux .. we were grouped with a couple from Portugal, a couple from Spain and a couple from Italy. Awesome group of people! We had such a great day which started with a visit to an orchid and butterfly farm. It sounds lame but we had no choice as this activity was on most itineraries.. but it ended up being pretty cool. We snapped some good macros. The butterflies were swarming all around you and there were about 50 Asian tourist crammed in with us.. Culturally, they aren’t known for their need for personal space or respecting yours the way you would like.. the way you are used to. They just do things differently is what you have to remember and never get annoyed or insulted if you are jostled or bumped .. repeatedly .. by everyone ..
Next we took a quiet bamboo raft down the “double double” river.. peaceful .. and then lunch at the elephant farm. Before eating we went to visit an elephant who was chained in his “area”.. He was able to walk right up to the single board “fence” .. his trunk extended far past the fence so it was a real good opportunity to be very close and touch the animal. WOW.. the trunk is like an animal all on its own.. playing footsies (handsies) with it was incredible.. we all took turns.. it feels like the toughest canvas you ever felt.. and it swirls and swaps around your hands and arm.. and that huge blow hole constantly reminding you it’s alive with the sound and feel of air compressor type gusts of smelly air shooting in and out. I got brave and decided to stop playing handsies.. I stopped moving my hand and arm.. the truck swatted me a bit and them the disgusting snout gave a full snotty sniff from elbow to fingers.. my arm instantly soaked .. like slime from Ghostbusters. I was in awe.. then it laid this huge muscular trunk over my arm.. and wrapped around my arm one rotation.. I was now bonding with the animal.. being held by it.. I didn’t realize during those first 2 seconds that I was no longer in control.. it felt so cool to be held by this giant animal.. to be hugged almost.. no wait, to be squeezed.. on the 3rd second and about 3 pumps of the blood pressure tensor squeeze on my arm I realized that this beast could break my arm any second.. like a twig.. we had watched them break logs thicker than my arm with ease. It could yank me into the fence or over it into the pen.. and stomp me.. the brain thinks faster than we can read or type.. so on the 4rth second, I pulled away.. by the 5th second my hand was all that was left in it’s clasp.. it was like shaking that asshole’s hand that likes you show you how strong he is.. you know the guy. The elephant was tightening his grip fast on my hand and I went from being prudent to being frightened.. the grip was now at the threshold of mild pain and I was worried I wouldn’t break free.. but a swift tug and I was out … omg.. heart pumping and all I could think about for the next 15 minutes. phew!
Yes we rode the elephants.. they had a large poster explaining their case.. we all read it. It stated that they love their elephants and they had been raised since birth. That they live to be 90 years old.. eat 250 kg of food per day along with 200 liters of water. They sleep 4 hours and basically eat the other 20 hours. They need to be chained for everyone’s safety.. they aren’t chained all day either.. just during downtime. It explained that when the food truck arrives everyday, there would be a stampede crushing the vehicle.. Also, some elephants don’t like other elephants … all reasons for the chains. It also explained the pain threshold of the giant animal being extremely high.. so when they knock them with their spike tool the animal is not hurt.. simply aware of the action.. most of the commands are verbal and the spike is only used when needed. We were satisfied with this.. the farm looked good.. the animals seemed well cared for and they certainly got plenty of attention, food and water. We took a 30 minute cruise through a prescribed trail of deep mud.. steep steps and a small river.. wow wow wow… scary ca !! going down steps you are scared the animal will trip and fall.. so high up.. every step is one step closer to hemorrhoids.. nothing smooth or relaxing about riding an elephant… its BOOOM ……. BOOOOM… BOOOM… hanging on to your saddle. Fun stuff.
Next we trekked for an hour to a waterfall for a swim and a village for a quick visit.. then back down to end our adventure. It was a great day..
That night we hit the “night market”. There are night markets all over Asia but this one in Chiang Mai was miles above the rest ( we have been to )… soooo many stalls and visitors .. it seemed endless .. and so many things for sale .. you name it, they had it .. well to a point, after all it is an “outdoor market”. It brings up a thought I have been having about stores and businesses in Thailand and Cambodia. There are so many stores, businesses, restaurants, food carts, food stands .. everywhere you look.. every street .. one after an another .. they fill every block, every street almost. I am not exaggerating. Way more businesses than are needed .. and I have been wondering .. why ? I think it has to do with survival. Instead of being on social insurance, these people are all entrepreneurs.. some more successful than others, but all of them business people. They can’t sit back and do nothing, or they will starve .. and many aren’t fortunate enough to be highly educated to get those “jobs” at those big businesses. So most people open a business and are lucky if they sell 3 or 4 items a day .. 3 or 4 meals a day .. I’m just guessing by the shear number of businesses .. one beside the other .. none of them looking busy at all. Take your pick where you want to buy .. umm .. a bottle of water. Everyone sells bottles of water ! Even the old woman that sells metal scraps sells bottles of water. I guess this explains why many Asians come to our country and are dominant with business .. I really admire this quality .. wish I had the guts and knowledge to own a business. Perhaps we will move to Asia and learn 🙂
The next day we headed back to Bangkok for a final time .. and as the lonely planet guide stated, our last time would be the sad time. We went on an adventure into China town and then to Siam Square. This is the commercial district of Bangkok .. with 3 or 4 different malls attached to each other. It was a very unique setup.. Each mall more expensive than the last .. we started at MBK which was for the common folk .. and then connected by elevated walkways you make your way to Discovery which was a step up .. and finally to Paragon which was the crème de la crème of high society shopping. Inside this mall were car dealerships .. Rolls Royce being one of them .. with 2 cars in the showroom .. in the mall .. There was an English Language competition in full swing in the malls center court .. was being filmed for tv I think .. some western folks as judges. I wondered what it would take to get that gig .. would be fun.
When it was time to eat we hit the most excellent food court ever .. everything high end.. We actually had to buy a card that could be applied to buying your meal at whichever restaurant .. then you were reimbursed for money you didn’t spend .. an awkward system but I guess it allowed the restaurants to focus on food rather than handling money. After the meal, we went downstairs to the basement of this massive mall .. where we found http://www.siamoceanworld.co.th/ Siam Ocean World .. the most amazing aquarium we’d ever seen. This place descended and descended into the earth with chambers and pools and huge aquariums. At the end was a gigantic aquarium with sharks, rays and other assorted fish .. tunnels you walked through with sharks swimming above and beside you .. it was amazing.
A solemn cab ride back to Banglamphu .. some last drinks at our favorite pub .. and a final pad thai at our favorite grubby stall.. sitting on children’s plastic stools keeping our feet elevated to deter the roaches from climbing on .. we people watched from that spot for a good hour, not wanting the trip to end ..
A few interesting facts before I end this. For those who really know me, you know I have bad dandruff and some kind of disease on my face that makes my skin very red and raised if left unchecked.. In 4 weeks I never cleaned my hair once .. and my dandruff was gone by the second week .. no more bobos on my head .. no itchiness .. just a normal scalp and hair that would do whatever I wanted without adding gel. I’ve been back over a month and my dandruff and scalp are worse than ever .. my red skin came back in a fury and it just now starting to calm with my regular “treatment” of Tea tree oil .. No advice for this on here please .. Send me a private message if you must, but I can almost guarantee that I have tried whatever shampoo or treatment you will suggest. I also lost a good 10 pounds during the voyage .. lots of walking yes .. but I would have to say that the food was the main reason .. never had a meal where I felt bloated or “full” .. so much veg and fruits .. small portions of rice or noodles .. plenty of soups .. at least 1 per day. In the month we’ve been back, after every meal I sit and feel like a sack of *#^% .. heavy breads, pasta dishes, meat and potatoes .. I can’t believe how wrong we eat .. how “normal” our diets are .. knowledge is power and we are changing our habits as I type.
Asia is a life changer .. I wish everyone would make the trip. We can all learn a few things .. about ourselves, about others and about different ( sometimes better ) ways of doing the same things. I had an nice concluding paragraph written .. but after staring at it for over an hour, I decided to delete and just end it like this .. It’s amazing how censored my life became the day I scored my first teaching gig.. probably for the better 😀 If you want to know anything else about any of this, you know where to find me. Anyways, till next year’s journal.