Thursday, January 13, 2005

Chiang Mai

So after a few lovely days in Bangkok, wherein I did a bit of sightseeing and a lot more nothing (dude, a one hour foot massage for $5? You'd do the same), I decided to head up to Chiang Mai for a few days, because it's the next place in Thailand about which I've heard the most, after Phuket. People I met in Bangkok who had been recently raved about it, and compared to Bangkok, they're right. I grew up a city girl, but Bangkok is just an unintelligible chaos, all the time. Not being able to fend for myself there isn't a feeling I cared for much, and while I'm doing about as well in Chaing Mai (I got lost finding my way back to my hostel yesterday and had to ask three different people for directions), it's a far more limited place and I'm not really worried. I'm staying in a really cool area full of guesthouses and restaurants, all divided by streets that can barely fit a car going one way, and there are travelers everywhere. Maybe that means it's overrun with tourists, but to me, seeing Western faces means that I'm on the right track. At least I have some hope of being able to communicate with them, whereas I still have problems trusting Thais after my initial experience in Bangkok.

I haven't been a whole lot more active about my tourism here. Yesterday I had my aforementioned walk around the main part of the city (it used to be completely contained by a square wall and moat, but as you can imagine it overran those some time ago), seeing what temples I could, getting lost, and being somewhat disappointed that the character of the city inside the walls isn't too different from that outside. The main distinction appears to be oneway streets. I say I'm disappointed simply because I remember my visit to Carcassonne a few years ago, where the walled city (well, village, more like) seemed like it had been pretty well preserved from hundreds of years ago, at least in look and feel (thankfully not in cleanliness and plumbing), and then where the town had grown too big, the village was down below and distinct. I suppose that's rare though; Avignon isn't too different from what's going on here. Anyway, I did my walk around, then enjoyed my sense of accomplishment in even finding the guest house where I'm staying again (it's across the street from the place I really wanted to stay at that was fully booked, which I've now decided was a good thing: I have my own room and bathroom here for 150 baht per night, which is half of what the other place was... so I'm saving almost $10!), and simply stayed here for the remainder of the day. I didn't go see whatever wat is on the hill that overlooks the city that's simply spectacular (didn't really know how to get there), nor did I go to the night bazaar that's supposed to be so great. I hung out in the lounge area watching Congo and Risky Business (I didn't choose them, but whatever--Congo was hilarious because I forgot that Laura Linney was in it and the other scientist was played by Sean from Nip/Tuck...I didn't know he had a career before that show) and reading The Beach. Dunno about the movies, but The Beach is friggin' fantastic. I plan to spend tonight reading it as well, and can't wait.

Just so it doesn't sound like I'm wasting all my time (which is exactly what I plan to do when I get to Bali...Kuta here I come!), today I rode an elephant (felt like glorified horseback riding), hiked up to see a couple of random hill tribes and a waterfall (not at the same time), and went bamboo rafting. Tomorrow I'm heading north to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle (where Thailand, Laos and Burma meet, and which is an area known for its easily-available opium), seeing a couple more hill tribes and going on a boat trip. I'm most looking forward to the boat trip. That'll be another nice thing about Bali: cheap boat rentals. Surf lessons, too. If water is involved, I'm there. Reading The Beach, I definitely feel like I'm in the wrong place. Of course, I haven't finished it yet. Gonna go rectify that.

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