It wasn’t until I started writing this entry that I realized how massive it is. And no one wants to spend their day reading a novel with limited pictures (unless it’s Harry Potter for the umpteenth time). So I gone the way of Hollywood and turned this into a two-part event. Except you’ll only have to wait a day for part 2.
Upon my arrival in Chiang Mai, I took a taxi to the guesthouse I would be staying at called The White House, which was situated next to The Blue House. I chose to spend most of my time in Thailand in Chiang Mai because I had read that the smaller city vibe was more preferable for visitors not digging the big city feel. Being the second largest city in Thailand, it was still a city with nearly a million people in it and only hundreds of temples instead of thousands of temples. The host, named Nuk, checked me in to my private room ($8/night), complete with its own bidet (‘bidet’ to you sir) allowed me to place my bag and valuables in a secure storage locker, and provided me with recommendations of things to do in Chiang Mai. I decided to go out and walk around to get the feel of the area.
In Thailand, main streets are broken into smaller sub-streets called “Soi.” Think of it as a street-within-a-street. I could make a joke about street-inception or street-ception, but that joke has overstayed its welcome. I had a map to follow around, but it was usually difficult to find which direction I was going, unlike the eastern mountains of Utah which always declare East. One of the reasons I preferred being alone was that I could walk wherever I wanted and take as much time as I needed without having to be considerate of others asking: “Where the cuss are we going?” or “What the cuss are we doing?” and dignifying them with the all encompassing response of “I don’t know.” I felt a certain sense of nostalgia (and queasiness) as the familiar third-world smell of free sewage overcame me. I was staying in a part of the city referred to as “within the old walls,” where many of the temples were located. I saw a group of people gathering at a makeshift terminal waiting to go somewhere, so I decided to join them. They were headed up to an area called Doi Suthep: a temple at the top of a mountain with a view over the entire city. The road there was harrowing; winding up the mountain in a series of switchbacks. I was only one shade of green among many in our small, crammed bus.
The temple was located in a high, mountaintop village adorned with hanging flags. There were approximately 300 steps to the temple and lookout at the top. For those not fit enough to make the arduous trek, there was an elevator to take up. The view at the top was breathtaking as the clouds settled over the valley and mountains themselves. I befriended a couple from Israel, Tom and Filek who were on their honeymoon. I became their unofficial photographer as I kept running into them in the most photogenic areas. They must have thought I looked lonely by myself and needed something to do. My best to them. The ride back down wasn’t much better, and it didn’t agree with the chicken I had eaten. Admittedly, I went back to my room at about 6 pm, spent an unspecified amount of time in the bathroom, and gave in to jet lag.
Fortunately, it took me only 10 hours of sleep to acclimatize to the new time zone. At 5 AM, I woke up and took a rented scooter (only $6 and no proof of license!) back to Doi Suthep, and further up to the top of the mountain to watch the sunrise. Words can’t describe the sight, so I won’t try. I had left my phone at the guesthouse and my GoPro died, so just take my word for it. I headed back down to a restaurant and ordered my first real Thai meal of Pad Thai and Mango Sticky Rice. I CAN show you a picture of this. Words can’t describe how it tasted, so I won’t try.
I was lucky to have T-Mobile, whose phone plan allowed me to have free texting and data abroad without incurring roaming fees. Google Maps has been incredibly helpful. It allowed me to find the church (LDS church, you don’t need anything to find a Buddhist temple here) that I would be attending. If it was a cultural experience I was hoping to experience at the Chiang Mai 2nd Branch, I was mistaken. About 80 people were in attendance, roughly half of which were students from Utah through an assortment of programs such as Help International, study abroad, teaching English, and internships. No one was more than 50 years old, so they couldn’t have been there to find a wife. A more appropriate name for the branch would have been the BYU Thai-SA Branch. The small world that it is, I knew one of the attendees present, Amber Nordhagen, and was able to spend the rest of the day with their group.
The Sunday Market is well-known in Chiang Mai. Major streets are closed off to allow more than 1500 vendors to set up stalls to sell food and crafts. It’s been estimated that tourism makes up about 25% of Thailand’s GDP, and the night market was a good example. The market drew hundreds, if not thousands of tourists. Besides the vendors, there were few Thai’s there. Probably because they know they can buy a better quality item for half the price the next street over.
I’ve never been the sentimental type to buy souvenirs, but I will happily throw down extra money on food. Which I happily did at the market. I loved trying shakes from different stalls, trying to find the best one – Mango, avocado, strawberry. Undoubtedly the best one was this mixed-berry smoothie. Words can’t desc- you get it. There were some other delicacies to try such as fried milk, spicy sausage, tzoriso, and fresh coconut milk. With how many people were there, the next day, everyone cleans up so well, you’d never have been able to guess what had transpired the night before.
My last day in Chiang Mai, I had made reservations to go to an elephant nature park. There are varying philosophies concerning the elephant in Thailand. It is a sacred animal according to the religion here and can be found in stone form in many temples. In the past, elephants were used for field labor and in the logging industry. In select areas, some people still use elephants to beg in the street, unnerving the creatures with the loud, city noises. Many services in Asia cater to tourist’s fascination with the elephant in the form of riding, caring, or feeding them. The service I chose to go with did not believe the elephant should be ridden and focused on allowing them to roam free and recover from their past.
I had a wonderful, hands-on experience with the elephants. We learned about Moosh, an 80-year-old elephant saved from the logging industry who had given birth while working and whose baby had been killed by the careless workers. Jungle Boy, a 5-year-old baby who had stepped in a trap at the age of one and now had a permanently disable leg. Seree had stepped on a mine at the border and had her foot mangled. Each elephant had a story. Seeing them interact with other elephants rescued from similar situations and how they had bonded was a wonderful sight to see. While many people fanaticize about riding an elephant, I was content with playing with them.
When I returned to the White House, I got my stuff together and prepared to fly to Bangkok, which is where a completely different experience awaited me . . .