I met Indiana Jones on my train ride to Chiang Mai. He was fatter than I thought he would be, not American but Finnish, and had a twitch. Sitting across from each other I introduced myself and told him about my travels. He was interested in my trip to Burma as he had been there a handful of times since 1990. “What were you doing in Burma in 1990?” I asked. Unable to speak softly and with a thick accent he adjusted himself and answered “Well, I have a bit of an addiction. I collect artifacts. Not to sell, but to keep in my home.” Funneling through his bag he continued, “Here, let me show you some pictures”. I was expecting him to hand me a camera, or maybe a computer, but instead, he handed me a stack of photos showing himself, dressed in a three-piece suit and smoking a pipe throughout the many rooms of his house. Surrounding him in each room was his extensive collection of artifacts; golden Buddha statues, hand carved wooden sculptures, paintings, vases, plates, and even ivory elephant tusks.
I flipped through the pictures as I thought to myself “Who shows pictures of themselves like
this? Around their house, smoking a pipe, in front of statues, jade, and ivory. Isn't the importing of elephant tusks illegal?” I asked him how he managed to get all of his prize possession back to Finland and he replied “Well, money definitely helps. Some imported legally, while others illegally.” He laughed with pride, and I smiled with caution. As the train continued we shared a beer before I headed off to explore the other cars of the sleeper train.
The ride to from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was quick and comfortable. The overnight sleeper train was full with locals and tourists drinking and enjoying themselves. A group of thirty or so twenty-five year old’s occupied the car I stumbled into. Trying to make my way through I found myself surrounded by drunken Thais playing guitar and singing songs. I was handed a beer and told to drink, so I did. Chip introduced himself and I met his friends. They were all coworkers from Bangkok on their way to Chiang Mai for the weekend. I finished my beer and was handed another as the songs and antics continued. I laughed with them trying to figure out if they were
laughing with me or at me. Eitherway, fun times were had and before I knew it I was dancing drunkenly and singing as someone was playing “Sweet Caroline” on guitar. The alcohol had set in and it was getting late. I said goodbye to my new friends and made my way back to my bed.
We pulled into Chiang Mai in the early morning. I shared a taxi with some backpackers and made my way into the city to find a hotel. The ride was short but I could already tell I would be happier here than down south in Bangkok. It was a laid back city set in the hills. On the horizon overlooking Chiang Mai is the kings palace sitting high on a mountain top. Most of the backpackers hostels are set in the old city surrounded by the city gate and moat. Its true, Chiang Mai is touristy, but still, if you want to get away from all the tourism you can. It's a city. If you want to be in Europe you can hop into one of the many cafe's or bistros. If you wanted to be in America you could go to a burger
joint, and if you want to be in Thailand, you can go anywhere else.
I realized early on that while Myanmar was an adventure, Thailand and Chinag Mai in particular was going to be more of a vacation. Massages, cooking class, massage classes, motorbike rides, and endless options for food are just a few things the city has to offer. The area also serves as a great base to set-out on treks with a nearby national park as well as elephant camps nearby. Its also the starting point for a great motorbike loop. Me, I decided on having a few massages, taking some massage and cooking classes, motorbiking, and eating more than my stomach could handle before heading onwards to Pai.
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