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Published: April 29th 2014
Only the most senior monk beg at the central market. Easy pickin's.
It was about noon when my flight started its descent into Chiang Mai. When I heard the landing gear come down I looked out the window. I could see that perfect square formed by the red brick walls of the old city on my right. I closed my eyes, sank back into my seat and waited for that reassuring butt thump of wheels meeting tarmac. The plane suddenly accelerated into an emergency climb. The stewardess in the rear-facing jump seat at the front of the plane was wide-eyed. Her necklace levitated off her neck. She hung suspended by her 4-point harness as the climb continued, engines screaming bloody murder until the pilot banked hard left and leveled off. A British dude, white as a cloud, sitting next to the window opposite mine started yelling; "Did you see that! Did you see that!" What he had seen was a twin engined, private plane crossing our Tee from the left side. How it got there I do not know. A couple of minutes later the pilot got on and apologized for aborting the landing due to 'Weather Conditions'. To which the Brit yelled out loud; "WHAT! WHAT!" I knew Jim Denson was smirking
from somewhere above.
Ten minutes later we were on the ground. As I exited, the stewardess thanked me for flying with them. Behind her, through the open cockpit door, I watched the pilots screaming, red-faced, into their headsets at some unseen miscreant. I've only had this happen to me twice. The first time was in Sarasota back in the 80's when a private plane entered the runway while my flight, which had just set down, was trying to come to a halt. That time the pilot got on the intercom and in a perfectly calm, Chuck Yeager West Virginia drawl, told us: "If you folks are wondering what just happened back there, I had to abort our landing because some STUPID SON-OF-A-B**** pulled out right in front of us." I wonder if that pilot's candor would have reassured the Brit any more than the weather story did.
Chiang Mai is my favorite Thai city. It must be. I keep ending up here for one reason or another. Walkable town, courteous natives and some excellent restaurants. It's famous for its Night Market, School of Massage and Eco-Tours.
I checked into the Oriental Garden Hotel. Karen and I have
One Of The Myriad Of Eco-Tour Booking Offices
They all take you to the same places so book based on price.
stayed here before. It's basically a restaurant that has 6 rooms in the back garden. Very quiet place. Hot water, WIFI, frig, comfortable double bed (they finally bought new mattresses), TV and A/C for $12 per night. Literally right around the corner from the Night Market. 10-minute walk to the old city. Friendly folks all around here. The best Thai food I have ever eaten is 5 minutes from my room. One of the finest massages I have ever had is offered in the Wat (Temple) at the end of the market street for 150 Baht. It's all good. You can get by quite well here for $20 a day if you don't get sucked in by the Night Market. You want Thai handicrafts? We've got oodles of Thai handicrafts in our Florida home. The first time we visited we had to have a shipping crate made up to get it all back. Today I know better. On subsequent visits I found the wholesale dealers were located just north of Tae Phae street, west of the market. The same items you'll see in the Night Market can be found in wholesale shops there starting at 50% less or more. Live
Sweet Spicy Pork Salad
An offering at MaMa's. Simple construction of fresh ingredients.
Things are tight in Chiang Mai. The Dutchman who owns my hotel told me that his food business is down 50% over the past three years. He thinks it's a result of the problems the government is having. In Thailand there has been a long running power feud between the 'Yellow Shirts' (City dwellers and business people who identify themselves with the monarchy) and the 'Red Shirts (agrarian, rural population. The Reds are in power now and the Yellows are trying to use the court system to force them out. The Thai military, which is the only true power broker here, wants nothing to do with a forced change of government so nothing changes. There is the occasional demonstration in Bangkok but other than that that I don't notice anything happening here politically.
While the majority of the Night Market vendors still set up their stands selling T-shirts, silk clothing, wood carvings, handbags, jewelry, toys and the ubiquitous but bizarre soap blossoms there are few lookers. In the main market building, about twenty-percent of the shops are closed. Meanwhile, the Sunday market, next to the East Gate of the old city, is doing well. Especially the
food carts. The majority of visitors here are Chinese and Korean. While the low end hotels are surviving the larger operations seem beleaguered. On the plus side, you never have to wait in line to get anything. There's a McDonalds, a KFC, a Starbucks, a Pizza Hut, a Burger King, a Subway and more if you're into fast food. Nobody in town is hungrier than the Thais. Go to Starbucks and buy a single Latte for more money than the kid serving you gets paid in a day.
Eco-Tours are big business here. You can rappel through the jungle or give an elephant a bath or ride the Mae Ping River rapids in a kayak or cruise along it on a bamboo raft. Visit the elephants at an authentic (but non-operational) logging camp where you'll see the pachyderms toss some trunks with their trunks and then ride them up a steep hill and back down again. Your personal photo will be waiting for you at the gift shop. Enjoy a butterfly farm. Visit a real Hill-Tribe village and spend a night there or not. It's a good way to kill a day, or two, or three.
Lonely Days And Lonely Nights
One of the adjunct night market stands. This was taken on a Saturday night at 8 PM.
big central market in Chiang Mai. I go up there every morning after exercising to load up on deep-fried, sesame-seed coated dough. 5 Baht for 3 of these scrumptious little puppies. I buy 6 and eat 3 on the way back to my room. That leaves 3 to eat with my morning cup of Three-in-One. Breakfast is served. Then I get nauseous. There's a flower market where you can buy a beautiful table arrangement for less than $5. They can make the dreariest hotel room come alive. Dry goods like textiles, kitchenware and clothing. The biggest salted snack operation I have seen anywhere is here. Nuts and chips and spicy dried insects and my personal fave; The candy coated peanut. $4 for 2.2 pounds. I can go through a pound a day and my blood sugar doesn't budge. The best time to visit the market is early morning when the senior Buddhist monks can be seen just outside the building, blessing people who deposit food-stuffs in their 'Begging Bowls'. The monks are partial to Ramen noodles. Little newbie monks have to trudge around town in saffron conga lines hoping to snag the odd Ramen on residential streets.
My Personal Chef
Always has a Green Curry ready for me when I walk in. This kid can cook!
more Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai per capita than any other city in Thailand. The holiest Thai temple; Doi Suthep, is on a mountain peak just outside of town past the Chiang Mai zoo and up the hill. Admission to the temple is 30 Baht. The views are spectacular if the air is clear which it has not been. Get blessed by a monk and they'll tie a string around your left wrist which you leave on until it falls off. The last one I received held tight for 8 months.
There have to be over fifty Thai cooking schools operating in Chiang Mai. For around $50 you'll go shopping at the local market, bring the stuff back to the kitchen and start cooking basic Thai dishes like Pad Thai, Mussaman Curry, Green Curry, Larb and more. They'll give you a recipe book and you'll have an option to buy an apron(?) and a cooking knife at three times what they sell for at the market you were just in that morning. The 'Thai Kitchen' school will also give you a certificate for completing the full day course. How cool is that? You'll eat a lot of good food
Chiang Mai Central Market
You can see this spot in Mel Gibson's movie; Air America. He was sitting on the left where the cyclo-driver is napping.
in the end. Karen, Noah, Stacey and I did it and it was mucho fun but once you've done it....
Transport consists of either Tuks or Saws with Tuks being the most expensive. A Tuk from downtown to the bus or train station runs 100 Baht. A Saw will cost 20 Baht but keep in mind that you're riding in the back of a covered pickup truck with bench seats and you'll get there when you get there. If you want a Saw just flag one down on the street and tell the driver where you're going. It'll either be on their route or it won't, in which case you just flag another. You'll always get there.
I seem to be the only guest in my hotel who stays for longer than a day or two. Last week I had a drunk Australian neighbor who liked to sit and talk about this and that. Then it was a Brit who had just broken up with his girlfriend. There are a lot of single, older, Western men residing in Chiang Mai. Many have lost their way. No families or at least none that they will speak of. They usually
have an alcohol issue. They'll rent a room and hole up for as long as they can until the shakes chase them back outside. I once read that the secret to a good old age is to make an honorable pact with solitude. These guys are ghosts. They flit from place to place and nobody sees them. They recount memories that no one can hear and then they simply fade away into the ether.
Yesterday a strange, ancient, bow-legged Thai woman moved in next to me. She's from Chumphon; A fishing town on Thailand's east coast. Her clothing was threadbare and sun-bleached. Her bare feet; splayed and callused into horn. She smoked a stogie-sized cigarette. It hung from the corner of her mouth like she was born to it. A spiral of thick, white smoke curled upward into her eyes but she didn't flinch. She sat down next to me at the round, smoking table outside our rooms. She laughed and cackled and gurgled in some strange Thai dialect, not caring that I didn't understand a single syllable. Her stogie jittered every time she guffawed, sprinkling a fine gray ash all over her feet. She began making a cast-net
Wat Massage Beds
I know it looks a bit Spartan and I do not understand why they have so many beds when there's only one guy working there but this is the best massage place I have found in Chiang Mai.
from a spool of fluorescent-orange line wrapped through a smooth, wooden shuttle. Her fingers flew while she talked. By the time I rose to leave she probably had enough net there to catch a fish or two. This morning she was gone. A thick, gray-ash silhouette of her tootsies was the only evidence you would find that she had ever been there at all.
I'm Thai'd out. Time to move on. So while the Happy Pants girls continue touring the 'Land of Smiles', I am heading northward to cooler climes. I'll hook up with them in India. I have become a major heat wimp in my dotage. If I play it right I should be gazing at the Himalayas in a week. Something I've dreamed of doing since Mom got me the Encyclopedia Britannica when I was ten-years old. Nepal. It's time. Thanks Mom.
No shouts this time. The blogs are coming too fast. I have a lot of time on my hands here. Please note that Noah's 24th B'Day is coming up on May 4th. He's getting old. KJ has hers on the 14th of May. She's getting older.
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