Pottering around in Chiangmai for another week

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Asia » Thailand » North-West Thailand » Chiang Mai
February 7th 2020
Published: February 10th 2020
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I'd only got a 30 day 'Visa on Arrival' when I entered Chiang Mai. Partly because I wasn't sure if I'd go off somewhere else for a few days or so anyway. But having settled into life in Chiangmai I didn't feel I wanted to arrange anything else. The alternative is to go to the Immigration office near the airport and apply for a 30 day extension. I expected it to take a good two hours, and all the advice on the internet was that it would be less crowded after 1pm. So I started my day by walking to the acupuncture clinic for my dose of needles in the back. Hardly feel them going in - it's just a pin prick. And then there's the gentle throbbing, almost like a pulse, when the electrical current if applied. And in the knowledge that you have to stay in that position, face down on the bed , with dimmed lighting and soft background music, it's really easy to slip into a drowsy state between being awake and sleeping . Afterwards it's sometimes difficult to enter into the real world of traffic and hot pavements outside. So I crossed the road and had a chat to Jo at the Meeting Room, who was just lifting the shutters on the gallery. And went for a croissant and a coffee nearby so I could use their wifi and call a Grab car. It arrived in 2 minutes and we set off for the Immigration department.The queue to get through the door was all around the front of the building and down the side. And it was moving very slowly. We were all trying to keep out of the midday sun. I filled in one set of forms and got photocopies of my passport and the entry visa, and shuffled forward to eventually get to the front desk, where they checked the documents, gave me two more forms to fill in and a number ticket. Then began the long wait. The hall was crowded and the numbers were being dealt with very slowly. There were several American families there with young children. I was amazed at how well behaved the children were.... but of course they were being entertained by games on an iPad.
A Canadian man told me that he’d been due to fly home the next day, but as his flight went via China it had been cancelled and the next flight he could get on was in 10 days time, when his visa would have run out. So then the penny dropped: the number of people having to extend their tourist visas must be partly due to the coronavirus in Wuhan province and the cancellation of flights via China and this would affect people returning to North America. The Immigration staff were working as fast as they could, and although the office was due to close at 4.30pm they assured us that everyone would be dealt with . I eventually left with my passport stamped at 6pm ....... and there were plenty of people still waiting when I left. I’d been there 5 1/2 hours! Traffic at that time is at its worst, so I decided to walk to the old city. The Immigration Department is near the Airport so the hardest part was the first 10 minutes...... a bit like trying to cross the M25! People looking incredulously at me from their ( stationary) vehicles :#madenglishwoman ! But after that I was wending my way through the side streets , following my maps.me application. And by the time I reached the old city walls I decided that I might just walk all the way back to Baan SongJum. So it was after 6.30 when I crossed the Ping River to my side of town. I sat in the little dimly lit garden of the Regina Restaurant and had a Pad Thai. It’s a really quirky place with a vintage shop at the front full of such a dusty array of 50’s to 80’s souvenirs and bits and bobs. The garden at the back has a very uneven floor, and a bottle of mosquito repellent arrives with the menu! But I like it.
On Tuesday my project for the day was to walk to the train station and sort out a ticket on the overnight sleeper train to Bangkok. I’ve been indecisive ( haha -how unusual-not) about whether to fly or take the overnight train. The flight is less than an hour, but there’s all the check in procedures and the hanging around , and then at the other end I have to get across town from Don Muang Airport. Taking the train will be more eco-friendly, will save me one night’s accommodation in Bangkok and I’ll be right in the middle of Bangkok where I can take the underground and the sky train. It takes about 13 hours and costs more than the flight. My decision eventually comes down on the side of the train. It feels more of an adventure. I walked to the train station and booked the Saturday night train, then walked to Eco lodge for a cool swim and read my book in the shade ( I’m now reading A Gentleman in Moscow great fun) nicely cooled down , and knowing that if I went back to Baan SongJum I’d just sleep the afternoon away, I caught one of the new airconditioned buses to Central Festival, a shopping centr about 3km away. It has a great food court in the basement where I had Khow Soi ( northern Thailand curry) for a late lunch. Up on the first floor you could be anywhere in the world : M&S, Boots, Superdry, H&M and Hush Puppies. But there’s also Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing shopping that I like. I just have to get over the fact that I have to buy Large or X Large as the sizes are on the small side. Vanity is cast aside.
I caught the bus back and showed my purchases to Nui and Kung. They asked if I’d like to go to the supermarket with them to get something for dinner , so I jumped in the back of the car. But they were having a little escape first and we went via a local trade show. I really felt that I was shopped -out for the day, but with their encouragement I managed to buy some studenty elephant trousers and a batik dress ( that I’ll probably use to sleep in) and a white cotton blouse. Supporting the local economy. Nui came back with cotton bedsheets , a new bag and three shirts. Kung managed to get out empty-handed! And then we went to the supermarket to get the bread and other supplies for breakfast. My landladies had escaped, leaving their home in the capable hands of the other guests. But only just in time, as an unexpected guest arrived. Mr Suzuki had booked from tomorrow, but arrived today. Luckily there was a room available and he was soon in residence.
The next morning at breakfast Mr Suzuki and I managed to have a chat about Tokyo and he was delighted that I had a son who’s lived there for 14 years and speaks Japanese. His own son lives and works in Belgium, and he seems very excited about his adventure in Thailand. A lazy day talking to dogs and other guests. I walked across the river to Wararot market and found Thamel , the Nepalese shop. It’s crammed with clothing and knits from Nepal, but rather like CS Lewis’s wardrobe, if you push your way through them to the back of the shop you can mount the stairs to Narnia, or in this case the painted walls and shutters of the Nepalese coffee shop upstairs.
Nui has been saying how difficult life is for Khun Sommuk, the trishaw man. It’s physically a very hard job, and he’s not getting any younger. He leaves his trishaw parked at Baan SongJum overnight, and rides his scooter back to his home in the country. Every morning he comes to collect it and then peddles up to the old city to try and find tourists. These days there are plenty of taxis, air con buses, the traditional red taxi-vans and Grab cars ( like Uber) and people don’t want to weave through heavy traffic and exhaust fumes in a fragile trishaw, and they feel embarrassed that this old man and his sinewy calves are pedal pushing all their kilos around the town.
In return for storage of the trishaw he sweeps up the huge brown leathery leaves around the house -a never ending job as they fall every day.
I slipped out and walked to Forest bakes to get some little quiches, my contribution to lunch as the week has gone full circle and it’s the Craft Afternoon day. Although ‘craft has become a euphemism for ‘ eating. Shared lunch, talking about food and travel and discussing the state of the world’. People like me who enjoy walking and don’t mind working up a sweat are also bad for business as far as Khun Summuk is concerned.
So I bought the quiches and walked my usual route through the little sois ( side streets) to Dorothy’s house. It was Junko’s turn to host the event, and Dorothy thought I’d be challenged to find her house. I’d certainly agree with that. Down a narrow lane in the outskirts of a part of the city I’m unfamiliar with: we arrived but the gate was padlocked, and the house hidden in a jungle of vegetation. We yelled and Eventually Junko appeared and let us in. There were just five of us this week as Kirsten has moved back to Germany. Junko is originally from Japan, Dizzy from China, Dechen from Brazil and Dorothy from the U.K. And then me-the temporary member. Dorothy describes Junko as the earth mother. She makes almost everything herself. She’s even building an adobe studio in the garden with her own hands. And the little sort of garden room where we shared our lunch offerings had a wonderful feel about it. She makes her own soap, herbal tinctures, ceramic pots and clothes and just about everything else. The conversation ranged widely, and of course included the coronavirus spread and it’s causes.
Eventually the Craft group broke up, and I went back to Dorothy’s, where we waited for an Australian friend to turn up with the applications for grants from the rural children who want education support from the money raised by the auction. Great stories and wide ranging topics, yet again, as I take a peek into the lives of thie international globe wandering community of expatriates from all countries and different walks of life.He acts as an Australian JP for Chiangmai and in this role has had to handle all sorts of situations with good humour and a pinch of salt. My brain was spinning from all the different and diverse subjects we’d touched upon today.
On Friday I dallied over my breakfast of papaya, banana, passion fruit and yoghurt as two Canadian ladies had arrived at midnight, their flights greatly extended by the rerouting to avoid touching down in China. They’re only here for 5 days and eager to glean all sorts of useful information. Nui was a bit tired as she’d fallen into a deep sleep last night and the dogs didn’t bark, so the ladies had been stuck outside the padlocked gate in the dark until they woke her by phoning . Anyway I had to get my skates on to get to the acupuncture clinic on time for my last session. My blood pressure was ok considering I’d rushes along the streets to get there, but once up on the high bed I kept getting cramp in my feet and was hopping around the curtained cubicle from one foot to the other. Eventually it all settled down and relaxed and in no time I was needled , electric pulse attached and left for 30 minutes. Afterwards I walked back ( that’s over 10,000 steps today..... very good!
Michael, one of the Australian guests was leaving early afternoon, so Nui and Kung sent out for khow Soi curry from “the best place” and invited me to join them and Michael for curry lunch under the old house.
To stop me from napping all afternoon I braved the hottest part of the day and walked to the Dragon Phoenix exhibition ( it finishes on Monday) and bought a couple of little things. I commented that the lovely old dog wasn’t around , and was it too hot for him, and was shocked when they told me he’d died this week, suddenly. So sorry for Rod and His partner Toy -they really loved that dog. They spend April-October in London, and know Herefordshire and the Malvern’s very well. They used to have a house in Wales and must have driven past the gates of Home End Farm whenever they went there from London.
On Friday evening Dorothy took Nui and myself to my Japanese restaurant discovery nearby...... and they both liked it. The food was good, it was clean and the staff were super friendly and pleasant.
On Saturday morning I made myself pack my bags before I went out. The plan was to take only a hand luggage bag with essentials to Bangkok and pack everything else away in my big suitcase. That way Nui can always re t out my room if she gets too many guests next week. It’s going to be a quiet few months without the usual tourists from mainland China. At last I’d sorted it and could hurry up to the park on the other side of the old city. Saturday was the Chiangmai Flower Festival plant show and floats made of flowers making a slow procession up and around the moat. I got waylaid by the Chinese Wayang or street opera which had set up on ground opposite the Chinese temple in Worarot. There was hardly anybody there, but it could have been a rehearsal for the main show in the evening.. Fabulous clothes, highly made up faces and much stylised posturing and pontificating. All the women look like Pantomime dames as the actors are all men.
The streets looked really beautiful-they really go to town on it and there are flowers everywhere. The orchids are especially beautiful and there were endless varieties of cacti. The prizewinners had already been awarded and the orchids especially looked splendid, dangling in their suspended pots from the shady awnings draped over bamboo scaffolding..
Saturday was also Nui’s birthday. She doesn’t like to make a fuss about it, but when I got back to the house there were gorgeous cakes to be shared from Love at First Bite. Happy Birthday Nui!
There was just time for tea and cake, and then a call for a Grab car to take me to the station. The Bangkok train was the only one waiting........ so no chance of getting on the wrong train!It was such a long train that it took me about 10 minutes to walk along the platform to carriage 4 and to find my seat. It’s an open carriage with seats on both sides. Dinner is served and then the train crew come along and deftly slot and shift the seats around to make beds. There wasn’t anybody in my top bunk which was nice. The young couple opposite me were French. He had long dreadlocks and she had sky blue hair. The little Thai boy travelling with his mum in the next berth was fascinated and kept poking his head out of his curtained bed , and leaning around to gaze at the exotic foreigners in the next berth. Embarrassed, his mum kept hauling him back in, but it wasn’t long before the little head would poke out again. In the end sleep got the better of him. We had that big full moon that night, and the train doesn’t go very fast. It makes all the clickety clack noises and starts and stops along the way. Sometimes at a little lit up station with just a couple of railway staff there, and sometimes a seemingly random stop in the middle of nowhere. I really wanted yo sleep, but it was so difficult to drift off. At 5.30 am they gently woke us up and started turning the beds back into seats for the journey back to Chiangmai. I had a much better idea of the size of Bangkok as we lerched and stumbled , rattled and slid towards the station, through the railway sidings and past communities scrabbling along the side of the tracks. Bangkok on a Sunday morning was quiet. I headed to the underground trains and took the line to Sukhumvit station. Here I changed into the overhead BTS, the Skytrain. At the station they were handing out face masks. I believe them to be useless in preventing infection, but couldn’t be the only person on the train not wearing one. Asok to Ekkamai. And as it was still only 8 am I stopped for a coffee and a croissant near Lodge 61 ( still rather early to check in) and had a read of the Bangkok Post. Front page news was about the Thai military gunman who had run amok in a shopping centre, killing 22 people.
So time to cross the road and check in. A smile and very basic hotel but in a good location. Big city Bangkok for the next few days!

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