Having a scooter has definitely changed/shaped my entire experience here in Thailand so far. It was really great riding on the back of Donovan’s scooter for a few days, but getting my own was a very smart move. The mobility offers so much freedom that one’s own two feet just doesn’t. Not saying it’s more or less of an experience, just different. For example, the markets around the inner city of Chiang Mai are often filled with cooking groups of foreigners like myself looking for an authentic Thai experience. The further one gets out of the city, the less of us foreigners there are. Also, the less inflated prices are.
The second day I had the scooter Donovan took me on a long journey through the mountains and backroads of Mae Rim. We eventually came out onto a road that was halfway to Pai – a destination that most people in Chiang Mai seem to have. The scooter ride though, what an experience. I was beaming and really still am. Rice fields, dirt roads, small villages, valley views, and all through tropics. I think we left at around 10 and returned at around 7pm. So, long day on the scooters!
A few days later Donovan and I cruised North and came to what is known as the Chiang Dao Caves. Parking was like a shopping mall and the commotion was the same. In order to walk up the steps to get into the cave, I had to buy a pass. Gate #1. Then, when I walked up the stairs, I was met with many guides who said I could not go any further into the caves unless I paid for their service. Sneakily we teamed up with a Dutch couple and split the second bill. Gate #2. A really weird experience to be led through the caves and have strange rock formations pointed out to us as being in the shape of a papaya or elephant, but I suppose it’s dangerous in them there hills. After this, sitting in the shade after the very humid cave, I talked with the Dutch couple about their trip and things they’ve experienced, and they mentioned that right close by there was this other Wat supposedly ‘worth the stairs for the view’. So, 5 minutes down the road I met the Dutch couple and took the steps up to the Wat, from what I can gather named: The Great Museum of Luang Poo Sim. We were one of two parties at the top where we had a serene view of the lush tropical Chiang Dao National Park.
When you’re on a tour bus you drive through these kind of stops on the way to a destination. A different experience. There is no right or wrong way, there are just different paths.
A few days ago now I cruised South and started to find the most amazing tall big Yang trees that ran the length of the road I was on. After surfing the market I had stopped at for some food – where I think I only saw one or two foreigners in – an older educated Thai man stopped me to see what I was about. We talked for a while and I think he wants me to come see him at the university, but I asked him about the trees and apparently an old King planted them from Lamphun into Chiang Mai. After reading a bit more about them, the Yang trees were planted in 1796, when King Kawila re-established Chiang Mai after the city had been deserted for decades following endemic warfare.
Along the way south, there was a huge highway sign I kept seeing that said something about a Woodworking Village so I took the turns to go there. I ended up in a village called Baan Tawaii. I parked my scooter and walked through the Sunday night (closed) districts, named according to what they made with their woodworking. To go along with my re-kindled obsession with motorcycles, I’m also fascinated with woodworking. So, as the sun was setting the beautifully crafted wooden houses and wooden works of art too big to take inside looked gold to me. As it was getting too dark to photograph, I jumped back on the scooter and as I was sitting there looking at my map, two girls in a new truck rolled up to the bank I was across the street from and yelled out at me what I thought was: “To go to Eat?” Confused with these two girls smiling at me and trying to speak English with me, I said: “Chiang Mai.” They said: “Ohh, Chiang Mai,” and the one who had gone to the bank machine jumped back in her truck and drove off…. I think they were trying to ask me if I wanted to go to dinner…?!
Besides seeing all the sights, I’ve been thinking a lot about the contrast between Thai culture and the culture of the West I’m more familiar with. For instance, the other day I was in a market and a group of Thai kids were running through it laughing and playing. In Canada, I can’t help but think that those children would be on some sort of leash. Another thing that I really admire is the consideration here in most things. When on the road, drivers are watching out for you and if you get in their way they slow down a little and you walk through or drive by. In that way, traffic moves like a snake here – weaving and twisting and turning and yielding. In the bigger cities of Canada, it’s more often than not a situation where the driver of the vehicle to prove a point that you’re standing somewhere that you’re not supposed to be, will drive right into you and then sit there honking their horn like that’ll make all the rules appropriate and followed again… it’s like everybody is moving at right angles and not willing to acknowledge anybody else or their validity to life on earth. Don’t get me started talking about the desire to consume..
I am now in my own apartment that I’ve rented until mid December, which is turning out to be exactly what I needed to make me feel like I’m settling in. I’m slowly establishing my routine and making friends. I feel welcome here. The lady in the coffee shop next door, Janpan, is the kindest woman who has been teaching me Thai – which I think is making my smoothie guy, Gone, think I’m cheating on him learning Thai somewhere else besides with him. Her coffee beans are pretty good – though a dark roast – and the price of her espresso is 30 baht or 1.20 CAD. Today I went with the lady who manages the apartment I’m renting, Phonteep, to donate blood. she wanted somebody to be with her while she did it, and when I walked in, I started filling out the form to donate my own blood, but they wouldn’t take me because I haven’t been in Thailand long enough I guess.. That or they don’t like white man’s blood… It was cute, Phonteep didn’t want me to drive my scooter and her drive her scooter, but she also really likes my scooter, so I let her drive my scooter and I sat on the back taking lessons from a Thai woman on how to drive a scooter. She also drove me to an art store where I was able to buy a dipping fountain pen to start writing my poems again in my black letter style. I am pretty excited to have this outlet again, so keep your eyes open for those popping up.
I also have a friend in town, Jessica, who I’ve been hanging out with most evenings once I make my way into the city (which also coincides nicely with the commencement of my eating for the day). I seem to fit all my eating into a window of about 4 hrs. Tonight I had khoa soi, a traditional Northern Thai dish that has both soft linguini type noodles and hard noodles on top in a rich and thick almost creamy sauce. This was of course after my smoothie at Gone’s (well, it’s actually his sister’s who also owns a massage parlour down the road). Jessica leaves to go to a elephant sanctuary for two days tomorrow, then has the weekend back in Chiang Mai, then she flies south to enjoy some leisure on an isolated beach, so it will be goodbye to her soon.
For me though, I’m trying to figure out if I should extend my trip here in Thailand for another month, or if I should find my way into Laos… Laos for Christmas?