Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Thailand: Week 2

The night train arrived in Chiang Mai only 45 minutes behind schedule, which would be a catastrophe in Germany but I guess is pretty good for Thailand. We got in at quarter to 2 in the afternoon, which meant that we'd been on the train for nearly 16 hours. The young English couple in the next seat over from me agreed it was once of the most miserable train rides they'd ever experienced, mostly because of how cold it got in the night. Everyone was wearing anything and everything they could find in their luggage to try to stay warm. 

Chiang Mai is busy and beautiful and full of Buddhist monasteries. Here are a few I visited. One of them was having Monk Chat while I was there, which meant I got to ask a monk questions along with some other visitors and then took part in a 90-minute mediation course. 

Ordination hall (women are NOT allowed to go inside)

There are also many, many street food vendors and outdoor markets, including the famous Night Bazaar selling goods of all kinds. 

Street food costs next to nothing and it's easy to treat a row of vendors as your own personal snack entourage, just strolling down the street and passing out 5-20 baht at a time for little pockets of rice, meat skewers, spring rolls, banana pancakes, and whatever else strikes your fancy. It's delicious and I need to get out of Thailand before I gain 20 pounds. Seriously, I'm addicted to two things: sticky rice with mango and 4-taste dried tamarind (available at 7-11 which are everywhere here). It's becoming a problem. 

After a few days in Chiang Mai, it was time to move on to the countryside. Against my better judgment, I decided to rent a motorbike to ride through northern Thailand. It's my first time on anything resembling a motorcycle. It's also the first time I've driven on the left, as well as my first time driving in Asia. Lots of new stuff to get used to. I took my Honda Click out for a test ride to the Doi Suthep temple just outside of Chiang Mai. Once outside of the city (and the ugly snarl of traffic), the riding was no longer terrifying and at times actually really enjoyable, so I decided to go ahead and rent the bike for a week. 

Arriving back at the rental shop, I was excited to hit the road for the laid-back, traveler-friendly town of Pai, 140km away. But then came a series of setbacks. 

Setback #1: daylight hours 

The lady at the rental shop looked at her watch and informed me that it was too late to leave for Pai. It was 4pm and the sun sets around 6:30 here. "No lights on the roads," she told me. Since part of the allure of the drive is the stunning countryside, and also because I didn't want to get hit by cars or drive off a cliff, I decided she was right, and that I'd stay another night in Chiang Mai. I booked into the hostel down the road and vowed to be in bed early so as to get an early start the next morning. 

Setback #2: booze and dancing 

The whole time I've been in Thailand, I hadn't really gone out, or had any alcohol save for the occasional afternoon beer. Neil and I went for a dance last week on Koh Chang but only because the techno party was right next to our hut and sleeping wasn't going to be an option unless we wore ourselves out. He doesn't drink so when we were hanging out I had less incentive to drink, too. 

Of course, since this time I made specific plans to be up early in the morning, I naturally ended up going out until 2am with the owner/manager of a local restaurant. He grew up on Mercer Island and his restaurant had been recommended to me by another Seattle friend, so I dropped by to check it out. (If you're ever in Chiang Mai, go there; it's called Dash and it's fabulous.) I intended to just say hello but ended up sitting at the bar for a few hours, observing the dinner rush as Dash kept sending drinks my way. (Yes, the restaurant is named after him.) When he invited me out to karaoke, I knew an early start the next day was not in the cards. True, I could have declined and gone home early. But since Dash is half-Thai and lives in Chiang Mai, he had an "in" that I hadn't had yet in Thailand. A local who could show me around? Take me to his favorite bars? Barter in Thai with the tuk tuk drivers? I figured that this was an opportunity I had to cash in on. 

Setback #3: lost key

After drinks, dancing and a late-night McDonalds run (karaoke was closed that night, sadly), I bade farewell to Dash and headed for my hostel. A quick inventory was necessary, and since I had my purse on me still, I figured I had everything, since I keep all the important stuff in there. Well, except for the motorbike key. Which was supposed to be in my shirt pocket. My fingers delved hurriedly into the pocket only to realize that the key to my scooter was no longer there. 

The key. Was. No. Longer. There. 

Fighting a wave of mild panic, I thought of the places the key might be. The thought had crossed my mind earlier in the evening that the key might be safer in my purse than in the pocket, but a thorough examination of the contents of the purse proved that I had not followed through on that particular notion. It must have hopped out of the pocket while I was jumping around to that Nirvana cover band... or whilst dancing in that reggae bar... or while grooving to Top 40 remixes in that club that was crawling with prostitutes and old creepy white men. I hurried back to the club complex only to find that they had all closed up shop for the night. A few long-haired after-hours Thai dudes were still in the rock bar and let me in to look for the key, but to no avail. The thing was gone. 

I went to bed feeling slightly ill and more than slightly aggravated at myself. This is what you get, I thought as I laid awake in my 4-bed dorm. Go out and have fun, but there will be consequences. 

I woke up at 11 the next morning with a slight hangover, not sure what to do. I went to the rental place to break the news to the mechanic, who reacted unhappily (although I didn't really expect him to react any other way - I mean they'd just lent me the bike 1 day before and here I was with definitive proof that I couldn't be trusted with a key, much less an entire bike). Whereas in America they'd say things like "No problem, we'll just grab the spare for ya, don't you worry, happens all the time", this guy just exhaled sharply and shook his head. (I think I prefer his reaction - much more honest - and really, what shop keeper would be GLAD that you lost their key?)

Anyway, they had a replacement key made, so all obstacles were now out of my way. By 2pm I was on the road headed to Pai. 

I stopped for lunch at a cafe with a scenic backyard and delicious curry:

The road to Pai has lots of curves. Dash's mother Noi had told me there were 550 curves in total and that I would not want to drive them, that instead I should book a bus ticket. Obviously I did not follow her advice, because scootering your way through the hills is SUPER FUN. Don't worry though, I'm doing my best to go slow and be safe. In the hostel in Chiang Mai, I talked to a tall handsome Estonian guy who was on crutches and asked him what had happened. No surprise: motorbike accident. Just 25km outside of Pai. He said he had talked to two more backpackers that had met a similar fate. I've seen plenty of tourists with scratches and bandages - "farang tattoos" (farang is the Thai word for foreigner, and literally means "French person"). Motorbiking was sounding less and less like a good idea. But I'd already rented the thing for the week. 

So far, I've done good and managed to avoid crashing, but motorbike accidents are like pregnancies: it only takes one to really screw things up.

That said, here are some pics of the bike and of the trip to Pai: 

Oh yeah and of me taking a gratuitous selfie, of course. 

Saw a LOT of Sharp Curve signs. 

And now I'm in Pai. 

That last one is from Buffalo Bar, but is actually a Buffalo Exchange sign. (The word "exchange" has been blacked out.) I wonder how it got here?

Next post: my last week in the Land of Smiles. 


Post a Comment

<< Home