Chiang Mai is one of the main destinations in Northern Thailand that tourists head to. Although it has a sizeable population, Chiang Mai is definitely more laid back than Bangkok, and the touristy area is significantly more low-key than Khao San Road (as well as spread out over a larger area). I really like the guesthouse we are staying at. Not only is it SUPER clean, but the location is really great. It is set back from the main road and even back from the soi (lane) that it is on making it pretty quiet at night. The entrance to our soi is actually one of the local markets and we get to walk through it each day. I love passing by all the fruits and vegetables in the morning. Some I recognize, others are new to me. There are also people selling meat. The most interesting is the lady with the fish and frogs in big tubs. Throughout the day the supply lessons as she cleans them out and grills them on her bbq to sell to the shoppers. That’s the other great thing about the market—in addition to raw goods, there is plenty of prepared food. This has lent itself to us trying more new foods. One of my favorites is this sticky rice and red beans cooked in a bamboo tube. Another time I tried some noodle soup with meat and an egg that came in a series of plastic bags. It wasn’t so good, but might have been easier to eat (and perhaps tastier?) if I had a bowl to transfer the contents into. One morning I brought some fired chicken back to our room for breakfast. It was delightfully crispy and really good. Some oldies but goodies are available at the market too—mangoes and sticky rice (sold by the fried chicken lady), and kettle corn (buy the bag with the green writing, the yellow one is butter). At night the produce and fish vendors pack up their goods until the next day, but along the main street a whole new set of stalls are being set up—street food! Our favorite stop for dinner has become the red pork lady, followed by a banana crepe from the pancake ladies. For drinks, we head to the 7-11, also a convenient place to buy my daily intake of yogurt. It’s always nice to be near the food.
In addition to the abundance of food, there is also an abundance of wats. The city hosts over 300 wats, each one different from the others (at least of the ones we’ve seen). The general structure is similar from wat to wat, but the embellishments on the outside make each one distinctive from the others. Some are covered in glass-tile mosaics in just one color, or painted in just red with gold, some have elaborate ceramic tiling, and others sport simple clay relifs. My favorite is an all white wat that exudes a sense of calm in the moonlight. The wat complexes are relaxing places to hang out for part of the day. Many have benches, trees, and some shade.
Beyond site-seeing, the city is unique as a destination in that many people come here to take a class. There is a range of courses offered from language, cooking, jewelry making, Muay Thai (kick boxing), and the popluar Thai massage courses. I decided to take a short Thai massage course while I’m here. It’s been interesting. My instructor only speaks selected English phrases, making small talk about the city or questions on the ideas behind Thai massage not just difficult, but basically impossible. The class consists of a notebook with pictures of each step and my instructor showing me how to do it while I try my best to write down notes. This isn’t always easy because, since I am the only student, she shows me how on myself. Laying on my side with her foot on my back with one arm and leg being stretched isn’t exactly the best position for taking notes. After she finished a section (arms, legs, back, face) it would be my turn to practice. In general, I knew I was doing ok if she started to fall asleep. If I did something wrong, she would make a face and show me the right way, this was followed by an affirmative grunt meaning, “Yes, that’s right.” I tried to ask a lot of questions to be sure I was doing it right. Usually I was answered with a series of grunts, mms, and facial expressions. I have to admit, I got a little resentful by the end of each day because not only was she the one receiving the massage, but she seemed to be sneaking in little naps. And I was paying for this? My knees and fingers are sore at the end of the day—I’m not used to giving a massage for 2-3 hours a day! I came to the conclusion that taking a massage class isn’t so much for yourself as it is for others, and was encouraged by the thought that at least if I learned how to do this, Matt and my family back home could benefit from it (so far they seem very willing). Yesterday and today I actually left class early; I just couldn’t take it anymore. It gets boring practicing all afternoon. Plus, I think I got it down. We’ll see when Matt gets back tonight. He’ll be my first guinea pig.
You may be asking, where’s Matt? Well, while I have spent 5 hours of the last four days (ok, almost 5 hours…) in class, Matt decided to do the other thing people come to Chiang Mai for—to leave. On day trips and mini-treks, that is. The surrounding areas are home to jungle, waterfalls, rapids, hill tribes, orchid and butterfly farms, even an elephant sanctuary. So rather than do something like take a cooking class, Matt went on a three day trek. This is the first time we’ve been apart for more than a few hours in the last five months, but so far it’s been going well for me. I’ve been able to catch up on some writing and emails that I wanted to do, as well as start working on getting together some photos for our long-overdue album updates. Hopefully Matt has been having a good time too. We’ll see…!