We’ve been in Chiang Mai for over a week already. It has been a nice place to hang out and do some different things; Joylani took a 4-day Thai massage course and I went on a 3-day trek. It’s a large city by Thai standards at 1.4 million inhabitants. The north is supposed to be generally less touristy than the south, but the old walled city that we’re staying in is still quite touristy. The cheap western-oriented accommodation, the preponderance of Thai food prepared for Western tastebuds, and plethora of tourist services are convenient, but they almost take away from the experience. We could have our laundry done for us, have “VIP direct mini-buses” pick us up from our guesthouse, and pass our afternoons at expat cafes, internet cafes, and western bookshops, but we could do that anywhere; Khao San in Bangkok, Thamel in Kathmandu, Dharamsala in India, Sultanahmet in Istanbul, Plaka in Athens, must I go on? The only thing different about Thailand’s tourist hubs are there’s prostitutes everywhere. Anyways, its not that sending laundry out is bad (we often do) or getting door-to-door minivans to drive you around is terrible (we took one in Khao Sok), but it insulates travelers. Its much more interesting to eat real Thai food where locals eat it, travel in Thailand the way Thais do, and meet people whose sole interest in me is not to sell me something or get a commission.
lanterns for King’s bday
park in Chiang Mai
Wat Phra Singha
Despite it being the Thailand’s northern tourism capital and it seems we see as many Westerners as Thais, we have had a good week. We’ve spent some time just hanging in the gardens at wats and local parks, have explored the larger city a bit, and tasted some great local food. And although it’s been a good week, I am happy to be leaving. Chiang Mai, like most of Thailand, is a destination for both upmarket tourists as well as shoestringers, which makes it perhaps the most trodden part of the SEA “trail.” I realize that this post is a bit of a rant, but after a month in Thailand, I’m really ready to get on a less beaten track.