Published: June 18th 2008June 18th 2008
Sorry for not posting in a while, truthfully it's been a slow week and a half, with notable events only happening on the back end of it. It's kinda funny, until now each destination only a got a few days - I think Hoi An's previous record of four days has been shattered here in Chiang Mai. This is nice though - without the itinerary feeling overly hectic we've actually managed to pack a lot in.
Upon arrival in Chiang Mai we met up with a couple of Adrienne's friends from Queen's who are on essentially a whirlwind version of our trip: all of Thailand and Vietnam in one month. We had one evening over-lapping with them to catch up and compare stories. It's amazing how people manage to hit all the same areas but have totally different experiences. We recommended our tailor in Hoi An but they had a terrible experience with her, for instance. Anyway, after they left we ended up in the same guest house as the Israelis and Irish from our boat trip. Our first couple days were spent exploring the markets and generally getting oriented with Chiang Mai.
The first big thing we did was enroll in a cooking course. Truthfully this isn't a unique experience as there seem to be hundreds of places offering similar courses that every single traveler takes. Either way, ours was a full day ordeal with heaps of variety in what you can make. We also had only eight people in our particular course, which helped. The real kicker though was our teacher who apparently has a cooking show on Thai TV. Needless to say he was a character. And of course, after preparing five courses each, we got to eat everything.
Then things took a turn. That night, we were feeling a little Thaied out and were craving something distinctly Western so we tracked down some cheap burgers and fries. Then came the vomiting. The lesson learned: stick to what the locals eat. As Matt put it, "it's the burgers and eggs benedict that will do it to you, but you'll be fine with the dog liver." Truer words have never been spoken. Since then I've fallen in love with a Northern Thai dish served in low-key sidewalk stands, it's called Kao Soi. It's some sort of noodle and curry soup concoction with veggies, crunchy noodles and a chicken drumstick in it. Sounds weird, but now I'll take that over a burger any day
So the next couple days were recovery days for me. Not feeling up for any temples we opted to trek to the mall and catch a movie.
**Shameful Admission Alert**
There wasn't anything in particular that I wanted to see, but there was something in particular that *she* wanted to see. I'll cut to the chase, we saw the Sex & the City movie. I actually laughed pretty hard in places, harder than I care to admit. Anyway, the real treat of the day, so to speak, was afterwards when we discovered that the mall had a Dairy Queen. I suppose burgers can be mishandled, but a Blizzard is a Blizzard. That evening, Omer and Guy were out of town to a place called Pai, so we went to the local Irish pub's trivia night with Owen and Elaine, the Irish from our boat trip. It was a lot of fun, though we did get clobbered by the local ex-pat population. We actually had a good showing, and the quizmaster seemed genuinely impressed by our efforts, but team "It's All Gone Wrong on the Mekong" (both Adrienne and Owen got sick on the boat trip) got stamped out by the grey-haired chain-smokers who call Chiang Mai home and go quizzing every week.
The next day I was feeling fully recovered and so we took a bus to Pai to catch up with the Israelis. Pai is a funny place that my guidebook describes as being part of the "hippy trail" and "reminiscent of counter-cultures in Kabul and Kathmandu." I'm not entirely sure what that last statement means, but I will tell you the place had a LOT of dreadlocks. Also the whole place smelled of pachouli oil, kind of like the Wolfville Saturday morning market. It was a lot of fun though. Like Laos, there wasn't a lot to DO, per se, but doing nothing can be so much fun! On the first day we went to a great outdoor pool in the countryside. That was it. We lounged, laughed, played some water basketball with Omer and Guy and proclaimed it a successful day. We then celebrated that accomplishment with beer at a local drinkery owned by a Brit of about 21. What a dream that must be, to be our age and the proud owner of a successful bar in Northern Thailand.
The next day we made the executive decision to not tell any parents or Lauras and rent a motorcycle. Well ok, calling it a motorcycle is a bit of an insult to proper motorcycles. It was a scooter. After a certain movie we just saw I wanted to name her "Sarah Jessica", but the scooter reminded Adrienne of Scrubs so she wanted to name HIM "Zach Braff". We settled on calling him/her Sarah Jessica Braff, or simply "SJB". I realize that makes it transgendered, but come on, this is Thailand.
Anyway, zooming (or putting) around the countryside, passing small villages and elephant camps was just too cool for words. After seeing a couple places from the back of a motorbike, it was liberating to get to be in control and feel the wind blowing through my hai...helmet. We wore helmets, seriously!
Unfortunately we didn't get to stick around lovely Pai for too long since we were due back in Chiang Mai for our jeep trek that Adrienne, Omer and Guy had planned while I was sick. It turned out to be awesome. Like the cooking, Chiang Mai is loaded with trek operators, but my friends found probably the best one of all. They let us cater the trip exactly to our needs, and even better, we got shuttled around in our own little SUV piloted by a hilarious man named "Toon". Our first stop were some tribal villages that seemed to be off the circuit of the mainstream villages that truly amount to little more than people zoos when in high tourist season. Fortunately, we were the only pasties at this one. Of course this meant the hawkers could focus their peddling squarely on us, but such is the price is you pay. Our next stop was an elephant camp where we were scheduled to ride an elephant. Honestly, none of us enjoyed this. Body language speaks volumes and these giant creatures were downright miserable. It also broke our hearts a little bit to see how scared they were of their handlers. You know how with some dogs when you roll up a newspaper they run and hide under the couch and you know that something is amiss? Same deal here. If you come to Chiang Mai, skip the elephant riding and go see one of the nice elephant bathing shows in Chiang Mai instead - I wish we had. If I could go back and choose between watching a happy elephant splashing around and getting what amounts to spa treatment, or taking a glorified pony-ride, I think the answer should be obvious. The trek re-deemed itself though on the last leg: WHITEWATER RAFTING.
My expectations were still stuck in Vietnam-mode where I figured it would be a fast-moving river and an innertube, but this was the real deal. We even saw one boat that had capsized and the people were sitting on a rock in the middle of the river waiting to be rescued! It was a riot though. First time doing that and I would do it one thousand times over again.
Then came the zen. Like I mentioned in the previous blog, Adri and I enrolled in this free meditation course put on by the Chiang Mai Buddhist University. It went down like this: they rounded up the 36 of us who had registered and after a brief introductory talk by the monk who founded this program along with their popular "Monk Chat" evenings (candid one-on-one convos with a monk), we were whisked out to their stunning monastery built especially for these retreats. Once we got there, we all changed into our white outfits (cult-like, I know) and began our vow of silence. Alright, on so many levels it was silly. We shuffled around the grounds wearing white and not able to speak to anybody else. The funniest part though was at breakfast this morning when still under the vow of silence I had overdone the chili-soy sauce on my rice soup and turned red-faced, tears streaming down my face. The table's self-control in being able to not burst out laughing was commendable. Really, the silence was really more inconvenient than anything, I shared my room with this interesting English guy from Cambridge but couldn't really get to know him. The meditation itself was great though. There were 8 young monks out there with us who alternated leading sessions. Throughout the visit they dropped all sorts of pearls of wisdom like, "Live in the present; you are the result of what you were and you will be the result of what you are." Or, "when you make a judgment you are defining yourself, one finger pointed out leaves three fingers pointed back in". I promise though that when I get back I won't be a jerk and act all condescending like I'm suddenly much wiser than you...even though I am.
So here we are back in Chiang Mai once more. We're a little knackered since the morning gong was at 5am to wake up and feed the monks, which of course Adri and I were old hands at since we did the same thing in Luang Prabang, though this time we were wearing white. And weren't allowed to speak. Went to a cafe this afternoon and played some backgammon. That Irish pub from the quiz has a jazz group tonight so we'll probably check that out.
The next couple days will be low-key. We leave for the South on Saturday. Probably catch another movie, hopefully one with a Y chromosome this time.
Some people who we were talking to on the retreat (when we were allowed to talk) seemed to think that we had tonnes of trip left, but I think that's a relative thing for people who's vacation is three weeks total. I keep getting that feeling we're nearing the end.