chiang mai (part 2)

Posted in chiang mai, thailand by moonwire on August 20, 2009

Can’t believe I’ve spent almost a week in Chiang Mai as I’m writing this from my boiler room. I did not do much here, other than cycle around town, eat some of the best food I’ve ever had, read, relax and just enjoying the moment. I did go see one temple though. Yeah, it was great… next 🙂

International phone somewhere in the Old Quarters.

Thailand has been wonderful in many ways. Though I don’t feel the ‘connection’ here as I did in Bali, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The language is crazy. I have managed to learn how to say thank you, hello and good luck only. The latter, thanks Peter G., came in use yesterday. When I just sat on the square near the East Gate (where the cats in the hole live), a group of young Thai students came up to me. They were from a polytechnic college in town and were working on their English assignment. They asked if I was willing to participate in one of their exercises. Sure.

So one of them gave me a sheet of paper with questions, which I had to fill out. Very basic stuff. One of them was ‘what your name?’, another one was ‘Have you seen baby panda?’ and my favourite question: ‘Do you like Thai foot?’. I’m not joking. After the ‘rehearsal’ they filmed them asking the questions and me answering them. They were totally confused by my answer to the Thai foot question, but I had some fun with it. Chok dee!

I’m off to Laos tomorrow. I’m flying into Luang Prabang. I did not want to take so many flights but after hearing about how to get to Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai, It was a pretty quick and easy decision. (See previous post). Also, I’ve decided to skip Vang Vieng as it looks like it’s mostly a place where young kids go tubing down the river while intoxicated. There isn’t all that much of a town. What this means is that I’ll probably forego the 11 hour bus on the cliff bus in favour of flying to Vientiane. If I don’t spend too much time in LP and Vientiane, I might head into Southern Laos, but I’m not too sure at this point.

Anyways, one of the best things about Chiang Mai was definitely the food. One of the local dishes, Khao Soi is my favourite. I got to indulge in some great whole grain breads as well here. Hope this will continue in Laos.

Here’s some more random shots:

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chiang mai

Posted in chiang mai, thailand by moonwire on August 17, 2009

I love it here. And I would have never ended up in Chiang Mai if I hadn’t met the French girl in Bangkok, Melanie, who just came from here and really enjoyed it. Usually I’m a bit weary when it comes to certain travel destinations, and mainly tourist attractions. Yes, I did go to the Borobudur that one day. Just like half of Indonesia went that very same day. Ugh.

But after my talk with Melanie, I figured out we’re pretty much on the same wave length. Yeah, you visit a temple and it’s great. Doesn’t mean you have to visit all the other 19,580. What I enjoy most is just living and observing life. And good food! And I have all that here. Plus a whole bunch of really good book stores. Oh, this makes me happy.

Veggie omelet with delicious whole wheat toast, coffee and fresh pineapple juice at Dada Kafe.

So here the story goes… I left Bangkok on Friday morning at 7 am to go to the airport and to my big surprise, my Air Asia flight to Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand) was not delayed this time. as a matter of fact, we arrived a bit early. Within 15 minutes of leaving the plane the taxi driver dropped me off on Moon Muang, a street just inside the city walls. I hadn’t booked a hotel yet and as it turned out, it wasn’t necessary either. One of the places that looked really nice was booked up (because it’s in the Lonely Planet guide.- same old, same old) so I kept on walking. Lots of guesthouses there and just as I started to sweat, I saw a sign for the ‘Green Oasis’ guesthouse. Free wifi! Oh yes. I thought that sounded too good to be true.

And it was. It was neither green nor an oasis but  I did take the room because it was very cheap (about 4 bucks a night, with fan and hot water) and I just wanted to rid myself of my backpack, but it sure was depressing. It felt like a prison cell. It did not have any windows, just some vents high up to let some air in and no outside area to chill out. I decided to get some lunch first and then start looking for another room. It’s just so much easier to do so without my backpack. I looked at a couple of places. All very cheap (4 to 10 bucks) but all kind of depressing. However, I did find a place, the North Star guesthouse, that had a pretty big room with a double bed, wooden floors, lots of windows and a veranda (and a very thin mattress, unfortunately). Much happier here. It’s still a pretty shabby place (but clean) but I like the vibe of it. It’s light and airy and tucked away in a pretty quiet soi (lane). There’s pretty loud music at night, but ear plugs do the trick just fine.

On my first morning I walked around in the East part of town, just outside the city gates. There was some sort of market going on. Lots of food and cheap clothes that will never fit me. And lots of good book stores so I exchanged my book. I walked towards the night bazaar area but nothing was going on there but I could see from the stalls that it’s actually a pretty large area and I ended up checking it out on my second night. Well, once again, it’s another tourist trap with tons of stalls selling the same pants, t-shirts and other generic touristy crap. Had some good food there, but it’s not my scene. Too high of a Disneyland factor, for sure.

The best part of the day was spotting a kitten in a hole in the wall. I moved very slowly as I wanted to take a photo but the closer I got, the more curious the kitten became. I came up very close and then another head popped out. And another one. As it turned out, there were five cats hanging out in that hole and they all got out to say ‘sawatdee’ (hello). It may sound really silly, but it was magic. I hung out with them for about 15 minutes and felt so happy, as if I’d discovered some sort of well kept secret.

On Sunday I basically did the same thing, just walked around. Got some good food the only thing was that blisters had started to form on the bottom of my feet. This doesn’t exactly add to a good time while walking around, so this morning I decided to rent a bicycle. Got a banana yellow one for 50 baht a day and let me tell you… I love it and it’s made all the difference in exploring. If I didn’t have any sense of self restraint you could have heard me sing out loud while cruising through the city. Just fantastic.

I had no goal or place I wanted to go, I just went all around the Old Quarters and I ventured East of the old town all the way to the river and up and down and left and right, through little lanes and bigger streets. I wish I had discovered this earlier. Such sense of freedom. I will definitely do this again in other places if I have the chance. Not having a driver’s license means I can’t rent a scooter, but the bicycle is just as cool and I get to see more because I’m moving at a slower pace.

So after cruising for a few hours, I decided to have some Khao Soi, a Northern Thai dish made with flat noodles in a spicy curry broth. Usually they make it with chicken or beef, but at the veggie place where I had brekkie this morning, they had a tofu version on the menu. Mmmm, it was yummy.

A nice big bowl of Khao Soi and a carrot/apple/ginger juice.

And even better, while I had my lunch, a guy came in to have some lunch as well and asked if he could join me. Of course. I always love chatting with other travelers. I don’t want to hook up to travel with them, but a conversation is always very welcome. We ended up chatting for a few hours. Greg has been on the road for three years now. Coming from a corporate environment like myself, he called it quits and started backpacking. He now is an editor at his own backpacking web site. We had a great talk. Of course, he’s a veteran solo traveler and I’m such a rookie compared to that but he did give me some ideas and we exchanged lots of stories.

I’ve been enjoying Chiang Mai a lot, and I’ve decided to give up on going further North to Chiang Rai in favour of catching a flight from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang (Laos).  I thought I could just take a bus from Chiang Rai to LP, suffer a bit but save some money going overland.

Well, as it happens, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Yes, first you take a long bus ride, then you have a choice. An 8 hour speedboat ride over the Mekong river (one of the most dangerous rivers in the area, if not the world) where they give you a helmet to wear and where you sit with your head between your knees with your ears covered to shelter you from the noise and general hellish experience, or take the slow boat, which takes 2 days of being on a usually overpacked boat. Uhm no.

I am flying to Luang Prabang on Friday afternoon. It’s only a one hour flight and though it was much more than I was willing to spend on the flight, I will definitely catch up on horrible bus rides when I head South to Vang Vieng (8 hours by bus through the mountains) and then Vientiane (another 3 hours).

So, I’m doing well. Enjoying every bit of it, except for this paper thin mattress.

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