Chiang Mai Surprise

January 8, 2009 - 9:21 am No Comments

We really didn’t know what to expect from Chiang Mai. It’s quite a large and spread out, definitely cooler and drier than it was down south. Curbs are striped in red and white, making it feel like you’re playing Pole Position when zooming along in the back of a tuk-tuk. The most refreshing change is that we are not constantly hassled by taxi drivers, street vendors, or girls with numbers on their dresses the way we were down south. For the most part, people catering to tourists respectfully keep their distance. Doug and I like it here.

On our first night, Doug and I hit the Night Bazaar, crowded row after crowded row of street vendors selling all the same stuff as we’ve seen everywhere else: obscene t-shirts, fake watches, pirated DVDs, cheap jewelry, and little tuk-tuks made out of wire and cut-up soft drink cans.

Shopping for a Soccer Jersey

Eat More Rice Bitch

Looking for a place to have a drink, we ended up at Riverside Bar, a nice little place packed with mostly locals and a few tourists sprinkled in. The rock cover bands that played were truly amazing. After a particularly good U2 cover by a band called The Bug, I was hooked. Doug captured some video. Unbelievable guitar solos by these guys and also the other band that was playing. There’s no way you’d ever find local bands this good at home.

The Bug

While jamming to the music, I met a Thai fellow named Gao, who was there with some friends at a table right in front of the stage. He was on a mission, drinking a continuous stream of whiskey and water and wishing me Happy New Year every eight minutes. We were instant friends.

Gao & Friends

We woke up yesterday (right around the time we were supposed to get up) by the sound of a rooster cockle-doodle-dooing and a ridiculous amount of dog barking. By the density of barks, I estimate 10 dogs. The rooster cockles, and then all the dogs go apeshit for a few minutes. When they finally stop barking, the roster cockles again and it starts all over.

We booked a day trip to the wats of Chiang Mai through the front desk with a guy named Peter. Peter is a local tour guide who is trying to get his own business up and running (and needs a web site). He turned out to be a good English speaker, very pleasant, and accommodating, allowing us to run errands throughout the day.

The wats of Chiang Mai are impressive. Walking around them, you hear live readings from the Buddhist bible over loudspeakers, roosters cockling, and dogs barking. Sometimes you have to step over sleeping/dead dogs just to walk inside. Turning a corner, you’ll get a waft of incense, which really works to make things seem more mystical. I took a buttload of pictures.

Wat Suan Dok

Buddhist Monks

Inside Wat Chiang Man

Entrance into Wat Suan Dok

Inside Wat Suan Dok

Laundry Day

Chedi at Wat Umong Chedi

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Inside Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

At Doi Suthep, one of the monks was sitting down on a chair and blessing people who would sit down on the floor in front of him. A family gathered and he began chanting. He produced what looked like reeds, dipped them in water, and then flicked water onto the people in front of him while he continued chanting. When he was finished, he tied a simple bracelet of white string around each of their wrists.

After they were finished, I moved in and gestured if I could take a photo of him. He gave me a gentle smile, so I leaned in and snapped a quick one.

Buddhist Monk & the Holy Water

After I made a small donation to the box next to him in thanks, he started chanting and flicking water at me. I kneeled down, soaked up the moment, and received my bracelet.

Chedi at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Prayer at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Monks on the Steps to Doi Suthep

Buddhas for Sale

Peter explained a bit about the history of Chiang Mai and taught us some Thai. Interesting how tonal languages work. Gao, at the Riverside Bar, had taught us “lao” meant “whiskey.” When we explained to Peter that we had some “lao” the night before, he thought we meant we had Lao people last night (presumably eating them or killing them). Turns out that the word for whiskey is spoken from high to low, while the word for Lao people is more flat.

Our basic Thai is getting better. We’ve learned the basic greeting “sawadee,” which means “How are you?” when the suffix of “kup” is added for a boy speaker and “ka” for a girl. Adding “pi ma” to the end of it makes it “Happy New Year.” We learned from Peter that “koon soi ma” means “you are very beautiful,” and that “arroy ma” means “very delicious” when referring to food. (To my dismay, you may not say “koon arroy ma,” meaning “you are delicious,” to a girl the way you can at home.) After seeing one of Gao’s friends get sick in the bushes after our night out at Riverside Bar, we learned that the word for vomit sounds like “oo-ah,” perhaps onomatopoeic and similar to what Al Pacino does in “Scent of a Woman.” Doug has taken an interest in the Thai language as well, practicing by pronouncing Thai words much louder than English words when both are used in the same sentence.

Peter at the Wheel

Doug & Jeff Eat Lunch

Chedi at Wat Jet Yot

Celadon Painter

Dog at Wat Chedi Luang

Inside Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Phra Singh

Moon Over Viharn Luang

Moon Over Hor Trai

After the wat tour, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up. The Castle continues to be ridiculously amazing. The family, especially the woman who speaks exceptional English, will do anything for you with big smiles. She let me use her personal cell phone to call the airport. After searching for DVD-ROMs all over Chiang Mai, she produced some from behind the counter. When they clean our rooms, they fold all of our clothes and put stuff into cabinets and drawers for us. They did our laundry for next to nothing. The only bad thing is the rooster and dog symphony each morning, but it’s not a huge deal.

Last night, we went out and grabbed a nauseating dinner at a restaurant called La Brasserie and then went over to Riverside Bar again. We rejoiced to find The Bug playing. Still amazing. We’re officially groupies now.

Pleased with the value we got from Peter yesterday, we booked him again today for an early morning trip to an elephant camp, a monkey show, and a traditional village in the hills just outside of Chiang Mai. Right now, I’m sitting in the back of Peter’s car, ready to take a nap. We’ve been staying very busy…

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