By the time I left for Chiang Mai I was healthy enough to embark on an 11-day backpacking adventure without any qualms but sniffly enough that while the plane descended from 30,000 feet I feared the sinus blockages stopping relief of the increased intracranial pressure would either reach a critical point and suddenly burst, exploding my brain, or would be compacted into a permanent solid mass and I would forever hear the world as though through a thick woolen blanket. Fortunately neither of those things happened. While disembarking my left ear popped with such force as to make me let out an involuntary (and still unheard by my right ear) “whoa,” but it took until the taxi ride to the hostel for both ears to normalize.
Perhaps there is something I don’t know about the taxi industry, having not use that service very much until this semester abroad, but it still astounds me that many of the drivers I’ve had over the course of my trips couldn’t recognize a map of their own city, much less place themselves on it. So of course, following the confusion about where my hostel was despite me pointing it out on a map and providing an address, I was worried for the whole car ride that I would be dropped off on a random corner and told to find my way. As is always the case, however, my driver managed to stumble upon my destination without major incident.
I made my way inside and got onto wifi to let Taylor know I had arrived, almost immediately thereafter spotting a patterned flowy-pant clad set of legs descending the stairs, which ended up being none other than my darling sister wearing what she claims are the most comfortable pants ever. We made our way up to the private dorm room we were sharing, doing no more than depositing my bag before heading out for food as it was already well into dinner time. I tried my first pad thai of the trip, of course with some deep fried spring rolls to start. After the delicious meal we headed over to the night market, a good 25 minutes walk away. Outdoor markets have become a favorite of mine, so as usual I was very excited to shop around in the booths. As seems to be the trend many stalls stocked the exact same merchandise, however (thankfully) this market had different items than the ones all over Malaysia and Singapore. Flowy pants, the same as those Taylor was wearing, in a multitude of patterns seemed popular. We shopped up and down the road, stopping at a stall for some fresh roti before heading back. Along the way we found a cluster of bars surrounding a boxing ring, of all things, so we sat to have a drink and watch what seemed like kind of lackluster thai boxing. We might have stayed longer if boxers didn’t come around frequently requesting money.
The next day we woke up, got ready, and walked out of our room to find this:
The goal for the day was to get me to all the temples and sights that Taylor had explored on her own already, so it was a bit of a repeat for her but still fun. We stopped at a cafe for breakfast where we had our first thai iced tea. The rest of the morning we went in (or walked past) approximately a buttload of temples. Seriously, the temples per capita was nutty. They are always cool to look at, though, so I’m not complaining. One of them had my favorite statue of all time. Along our wanderings we stopped for a beer and then a fantastic lunch of curry noodles and tried mango sticky rice, finally understanding why it is so popular.
After walking around Chiang Mai all morning we decided to get out of the city proper and head out to (you guessed it) another temple. Called the mountain temple, this one is, as the name suggests, up on a mountain just outside of town.
The taxis in Chiang Mai come in two varieties, one for quick jaunts about the immediate area and one for longer journeys. The quick-trip cars are called tuk-tuks, and can be best described as a cross between a motor bike and an open-air car. There are no doors but there is a roof and windshield. The driver sits on a seat like in a car, using gas and brake pedals, but steers with handles like a bike, and the driver is centered behind the windshield as there is only one seat in the front. The passengers ride on a bench seat behind the driver. For long trips there are red pick up trucks with covered beds containing bench seats along the edge and an open doorway at the tail end. We took one of these up to the mountain temple, and I was only mildly worried I would slide out the back as we ascended.
There was a small market out front and then a climb of 200 steps (we counted on the way down). The temple was beautiful and from the courtyard there was a view of all of Chiang Mai, but my favorite parts were the little extras. There was a set of large bells lining the sides of the building with a sign saying “Don’t Push the Bells” and, of course, there was an old white guy walking down the row, examining and ringing every single one. Classic. There was a tiny garden area out back with strange irrelevant statues – I felt like I was in an asian-Dutch fusion fairytale. And finally, there was a durian tree. I never knew where these fruit, my least favorite part of asia, came from. Just like every other part of them their style of growing is an affront to the natural order of things, with the monstrous spiky balls sprouting directly from along the trunk rather than off of branches like normal, non horrific fruit.
We headed back to the night market again to buy souvenirs since we hadn’t bought anything the night before. On our way home we found another roti stand, this time each of us getting our own. Mine was banana and chocolate, omnomnom. I will definitely miss the roti when I leave.