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Published: October 11th 2010
As soon as we arrived in Chiang Mai, I fell in love with the place. Bangkok was cool and crazy and as it was the place I first arrived at, I will always have fond memories of it but Chiang Mai is gorgeous and has a really chilled vibe. You still get hassled a bit but not to the same extent as in Bangkok. We arrived early on Friday morning and a few hours later, Marie, Rapha and Tom also rocked up- they were from the first week so seeing them was like seeing family.
On the Friday we had a wander and then went out for the evening. We braved the rain and ended up in some trendy bar with a load of old-school, mostly Western rockers playing some classic tunes. Then we went to 'Fabric'... Now don't get me wrong, I have come away to experience the true culture of the countries I am visiting but nonetheless it was very strange being part of the group of 4, only non-Thai people in the club. The music was great and there was a really good atmosphere- felt massively under-dressed in our backpacker attire with the essential flip-flops etc.
On the Saturday, I had a shameless day of Western-indulgence. Helen and me went to the shopping centre and ate at Pizza Hut before spending money on clothes that I didn't need and then rocking up at the in-store supermarket where we purchased real cheddar cheese and a french stick! The amount I spent on home comforts that day was probably the same as I could spend on a week's worth of decent, Thai food. To top it off, that evening we went to a pub called 'The Red Lion'. Ouch!
I made up for it the next day by taking a tour to see local tribes. It was really strange actually. Even using the word 'tribe' feels a bit wrong and just visiting people who have very little money and live in really basic conditions as if they are features in a museum, is something I found hard to get my head around. I paid the equivalent of about 14 GBP to go there and I just hope that at least some of the money went to the people who needed it. One of the tribes was part of a wider group called the 'Karen Tribe', or in the Thai's literal translation, 'Long-neck people'. From a very young age, the females in the tribe are expected to wear brass rings around their neck. For different symbolic reasons and as they get older, more and more are added and the neck begins to stretch. It is apparently seen as a sign of beauty and status. Whilst I respect that different cultures have their own customs and it is perhaps not any more different than for example in the West women changing their appearance through the aid of surgery, the Germaine Greer in me struggled to understand why the women were expected to endure such an experience whilst the men had no equivalent. I just had to get over it though and realise that there wasn't anything I could do about it and as paying tourist I was part of the whole exploitation to some degree anyway. That evening was Helen's last night in Chiang Mai so we went to another market and for drinks. I braved the sushi and it was amazing. So cheap (the equivalent of about 10p a piece) that I couldn't resist. Luckily I escaped unscathed.
The next day was also very cultured! We took a tuk-tuk up to the top of a mountain in the city and got dropped off at the 'Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep', a rather impressive temple I must say. The problem with traveling around Thailand is that there are so many temples (or wats) that after you've seen one, it kind of feels like you've seen them all. To make this experience a special one, Rapha and I decided to get blessed by a monk (as you do). We'd seen other people go in, sit on their knees praying, before being beckoned over to be blessed. Not being accustomed to this whole malarkey (or being fluent in Thai), neither of us knew what to do so we just kind of sat there awkwardly on the floor, put some money in the donations box and waited. I honestly thought that the monk wasn't going to beckon us over and although we only waited a few minutes, it felt like at least 10. When we did get called over, we were given a white wristband which I presume is symbolic but for what I don't know. White is of course an unfortunate colour when on the move. As I look at mine right now, I see a beige wristband where the white used to be.
Keeping up with the monk theme, we went along to a 'Monk Chat' the next day. It's basically a drop-in session where you get to ask whatever you like about monk stuff. The guy running it told us that they have to follow 277 commandments in total, that Thai men all have to serve as a Monk for a year and more randomly, what his email address was. It was cool but I really wanted to ask about the whole relationship thing- what is it like being forbidden a partner and is this something that he actively thinks about? But I obviously wasn't going to come out with this show stopper of a question and cause blushing cheeks a' go-go.
That was also the day I met Santia for the first time- an Angel in the midst of madness. Haha, I'm cringing myself out there. She was just really cool. Her abode was a wooden apartment adorned with loads of Kooky furniture and pictures. Her bathroom had a pebbled floor, a bird bath for a tap, a deep sunk bath (my first sighting of such a thing since leaving the UK) and next to the toilet was a copy of the entire works of Shakespeare. She opened up her front room as a cafe and made the best food I tasted the whole time I was there. We drank good wine which is a necessity for me but hard to find in Thailand and it was just a really chilled.
At the end of this week, I was ready to leave Thailand. I loved it there and am looking forward to going back but a change of scenery was definitely needed. So, on the Thurs of week 3, Marie and I left Thailand for Laos. En-route we stopped at this amazing white temple which was very Narnia-esque. These two young girls came up to me with a camera and assuming that they wanted me to take their picture, I readily obliged. What they actually wanted was a picture with me... I was about a foot taller than them and it was pure embarrassment at it's finest! Anyone who has seen me blush can imagine the crimson shade that then consumed my face. It was bad.
So there my Thailand adventure part-one ends. Me feeling awkward with a red face!
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