After relaxing in Bangkok Airline’s “boutique lounge” with snacks, WiFi, and long couches meant for napping, Broc and I had an hour long flight to Chiang Mai (that also served a meal!) We land at 6:30pm and it was already dark by the time we climbed inside our taxi 30 minutes later. We knew something was wrong when our driver tried to ask us something in English so broken that we only understand, “telephone number, no money.” We hand him the card with our hotel’s name, address, and phone number, but instead of asking his co-worker at the airport gate for directions, our driver decides we need additional adventure. We wind through dark alleys, stopping a few times to consult street vendors. At one point we are pretty sure our driver buys a phone so that he can call our hotel. By the time we arrive, we have concluded that he was trying to tell us that he wasn’t going to charge us, but we decide to pay him the five dollars rather than possibly have another unintended “adventure” over a misunderstood taxi fare.
The budget hotel we booked, “The Simply Room”, pleasantly surprised us. We were expecting a youth hostel with detached bathrooms, but there was an opening for a room with an on-suite bathroom (at the same price!), and the young lady at the “front desk” was very friendly and helpful. We drag our bags up three flights of narrow steps, settle in, shower, and then head out to meet our good friends Jeff and Jen Kuhlman, who also happen to be in Chiang Mai!
Jeff and Jen take us to a darling place called “Hot Chilli”, but we called it the “Rose Bar” because the entire place is decked out in flowers in all shades of pink and red. There are swings covered in vines and silk roses, and we order some appetizers and fruity drinks (mine was in a hollowed out pineapple!) Broc got Pad Thai with prawns, and I got a pomelo and spicy, thin sliced steak salad. (Thank you Lo family for introducing me to pomelos!) Unfortunately we were too tired to explore the night market with Jeff and Jen, but we slept well and woke up early, which gave us a chance to explore the city before it got hot.
I can see why so many people recommended Chiang Mai to us. It’s a charming mix of ancient ruins and modern Thai culture. The plethora of tourists haven’t seemed to change very much about traditional Chiang Mai, other than the inclusion of English into almost all menus and signs. There are more temples, or wats, here than there are coffee shops in Seattle. All around, you can see the upward pointed and carved gold or white rooftops poking up through the other buildings and trees. The orange gold/burnt sienna clad monks can also been seen throughout the city, but not nearly as frequently as the wats. Similarly, it’s strange how many apartments, houses, and shacks there are, but how few people are out and about. The endless little restaurants all along the bottom floor of all buildings, occasionally interrupted by a Thai massage salon, are usually almost empty.
Because of our proximity to the mountains, the weather is also a little cooler than Bangkok, and there are flowers and old ruins everywhere. The waterway/ponds that surrounds the inner city, for example, were used as fish-traps until 1800. The old brick gates still stand in juxtaposition to the modern fountains now sprouting from the ponds, and flowers bloom all year long around the ponds and throughout the city.
We explored the inner city and had a delicious lunch at a place that looked comfortable and served familiar food. (One can only take so much adventure in one day!) I ordered a grilled cheese and spinach sandwich on wheat, and split it with Jeff, who gave me half of his Pad Thai. Jen had fried rice, and Broc had curry (I swear the man is obsessed with the stuff!) After splitting the best smoothie with Broc and feeling quite full, we vicariously enjoyed watching Jeff eating an additional two egg rolls, an entire smoothie, then a root beer float, and a liter of Thai beer. We said our goodbyes as Jen rolled Jeff to the airport for their remaining holiday in Phucket, an island in the south of Thailand. We also rolled away to our next adventure, but our rented bikes didn’t take us as far.
For about one dollar per day, we rented cruiser style bikes with comfy seats. We actually had gears, but I only used them once in about four hours, because the terrain is pretty flat. We originally set out to meet with Chiang Mai Properties, a highly recommended apartment rental agency, but after we were unable to locate the office, we determined: 1) Google lies; 2) Even the very helpful locals may give up helping you; 3) And that we could stop at apartments we liked and get our own tours. The apartments ranged from VERY fancy, (and out of our price range), to half constructed/abandoned “dorm rooms” reminiscent of East Berlin. More on our apartment search to come! The bike rides over those two days were very enjoyable. One can see so much more from a bike! Having a mission, combined with some adventure and the unknown, made for some fun days!