I write this as I prepare to leave Chiang Mai to head back south to central Thailand, Ayutthaya. Chiang Mai has been a pleasure, and this is acutally my second time in the city as I stayed here for a few days before I headed up to Chiang Rai. But lets start at the beginning...
I left Bangkok by train for Phitsanulok (roughly halfway between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and not far from purgatory) and then continued on my way up to Chiang Mai the next day. The train ride was pleasent enoough, not exactly the Bullet train in Japan, but not too bad either. All in all a bit like VIA only not quite as clean.
The terrrain changed from very flat rice fields for the first several hundred km's to fairly hilly....hills, I guess. Nothing spectacular, but every now and then you would get a pretty scenic view so it was enough to keep your interest up. This is until the train was delayed for an hour or so by a broken down locomotive ont he track ahead. So we stopped and de-trained (?) for an hour or so in some little hick town with no
much else to do other than weigh yourself on the giant scale outside the station. For those of you who are interested, I weighed in a 97 kilos, a loss of 3. Not as much as I had hoped for to be honest. I will just ahve to start trying to travel harder. We made it to Chiang Mai in the end and I found myself a place a nice guesthouse in the old part of the city.
Chiang Mai is Thailands second largest city but maintains a very low key sort of feel. It actually reminds me a bit of Ottawa. The city itself is centered around the historic part of the city, a rough square that is surrounded by what was once a moat but now serves as what I would call a canal. Just inside the canal is a one way road that runs all the way round the city in the clockwise direction and on the other side is a road that rounds round the city in a...you guessed it, a counter clockwise direction. Numerous small bridges link the inner city with the outer road. I wandered around the city for a few days the
first time I was here and found it to be just small enough to manage on foot, but once you have seen the wats (and once you have seen one you have seen them all) there is little to 'see' here save for the day day to happenings of life in a northern town. I actually caved in and had my first Starbucks momnet of my trip, only this time it was iced coffee that was on the agenda. Damn it's hot in Thailand! Or maybe it's just the humidity...
On my second stop in the city (post visa run), I decided I would go and watch one of the things Chiang Mai is well known for, and that is Muay Thai boxing. It's a popular place for
westerners to come and learn the sport, and it just so happened that a Canadian was fighting in the headline fight of the night. So considering it my patriotic duty I happily laid down $10 for 4 hours of entertainment (there were 9 fights on the card that night.) The 'stadium' that I went to watch the fight at was really more of a glorified beer tent. When you walked in
there was a row of bars and at the end a ring. The fights opened with two 13 year olds beating the crap out of one another, progressed to two women beating the crap out of one another, and then wrapped up with a rather flabby ex-Thai champ beating the crap out of a rather flabby Canadian. Like I said, go Thailand go! Actually the fights ended with a bit of pure comedic genius. Three Thai fighters were lead into the ring, then blind-folded, and then proceeded to beat the crap out of one another. Very funny! Once the Fights were done the whole area switched to cabaret mode, and to borrow a line from a song, "the ladies of the evening were drinking booze and mingling" with the many farang that were there to watch the fights. I however did not stay as I had booked myself on a one day trek that was suposed to begin at 8.30 am.
So the next morning at about 9.15 the driver shows up (he was operating on Thai time) and picks us up from the guesthouse. Its me, an american couple named Ed and Julie, two australian women named Kirraly and Pam and two Chinese girls who I will just call Ting and Tong. After an hours drive we arrived at the elephant riding camp and hopped on the back of some Asian elephants (not as big as African, but with just as leathery skin and slobbery trunks) and just sort of trek along a path in the jungle for about an hour. You are of course encouraged to buy bananas so you can feed them and at 20 Baht, hey why not. The only problem is that once you have fed an elephant once, it of course remembers and pretty soon is flinging its trunk back at you asking for more bananas about every 2 minutes. It was pretty fun though a bit uncomfortable being rocked back and forth in your seat (though not as bad as the ride to the Hill House.) After the elephants we drove to Karen hill tribe village to begin our hike. We learnt a bit about the ways of the Karen and then headed on our own way. The hike was far from difficult and not that scenic but was saved by stopping at a waterfall with a bathing pool at its base. I promptly plunged in and swam up to the waterfall and received for my efforts the best massage that nature can offer, the water pounding down on my back and shoulders. A short break for lunch was followed by an afternoon drifting down the Wang river on a bamboo raft. Before you get the idea that this was peaceful let me point out that the guide made it a point to make sure everyone got very wet very quickly. So did the local kids who were using the river as part of their summer holidays, as they splashed us at every available opportunity. After the guide let me try my hand and guiding us down the river (I think I will stick to my day job...oh wait a minute, I don't have a day job....hmmm) we had to protage past some rapids that were considered too dangerous. Which was wierd because the guide said it was fine for me to jump into them at one place from a 15 foot rock on the side. I ended up doing the jump about 5 times it was so much fun. And then all too soon it came to and end and we were hurried back into the mini-bus and returned to our guesthouse. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me so far though.
And today I am on my way south, saying goodbye to the north and wishing that I had perhaps ventured west rather than east and seen Pai and its environs. But I am sure that soon those thoughts will fade as I make my way south to what Thailand is famous for.....the islands.
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