Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Chiang Mai

I finally did it !

It was the last night at the minute but I finally manage to do it… after so many unlucky attempts. But first thing first I have to tell you everything in the order it happen. So I took off for a 5 days trip in North of Thailand in Chiang Mai, because I wanted to see some inland in Thailand and be away for sometime from sun, sea and … sunlight. I stuffed my small backpack and, like I used to do, I trip over my journey by myself, alone.

Dog in the Buddhist Temple

Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand and has more than 300 temples. I did not count all of them, but you do have a temple at each block corner and after a while your reaction is much more like “Ah, Here is a temple, again!” Not that when you see one, you see them all, but when you see too much you are in Temple OD.
The first day, early in the morning, I went around by myself in the city center (which not a dot but square), loosing myself easily in the square town, yet discovering new places, faces and classes. I went all over the places that my feet wanted to go to, and when I came back I was full of contentment and had shoot more pictures than I have done in the last 4 weeks.

Buddhist Temple where the Dog slept

Buddhist temples are a rare place in the city where order cleanest and neat is constantly present contrasting with the outdoor. As soon as you penetrate inside the 4 walls of a Temple, you see lines, alignments, and golden surface all around you. It is not the same peace as in the one that exists in Shinto Temples’ in which it comes to your senses first and then penetrates in your soul, in Buddhist Temples’ it’s probably the opposite, it goes to your heart and then goes to your senses later on if you wait long enough.

Autel from the Buddhist Temple where the Dog slept

Golden monks and apprentices are everywhere in Temples, they have the latest cellphones, play Thai Chess all day long and pray when have time in between. But except that I have barely saw them doing some heavy lifting or other human task that us, human being are supposed to do to survive.

Cambodian Flat Sculture from the Ban Phor Liang Meun's
Terracotta Arts mention in the previous post

After my long walking trip over the city, I stop over at the nearby Temple and spent the late afternoon try to speak with 2 apprentices on what life is about in their world and how to play Thai chess. I played 10 minutes and 2 monks kicked my ass so fast. I don’t thing it was very Christian from their part to not help me the first game. I learned my lesson and left them alone in the almost dark at their duty.

Apprentice Monks

The following day I booked a 2 days / 1 night trek to see the country side. I started the day with an American breakfast and ½ hour before schedule. A group of 12 squeezed in a collective Tuk-Tuk to the final destination. The 90 minutes gave a chance to everyone to introduce themselves and explain where you were from, where they want to go, and how long they plan to stay in Asia. My turn generated some confusion in people mind due to my age, my profession and my short stay. I learnt that the average age of the South East Asian traveler is 23, Female and coming most of the time from Europe-Land. My personal condition has a different meaning in Thailand and refers to the type of traveler that I don’t want to associate myself with. I had to explain in many different words that I did not belong to the white-socks-and-blue-short-looking-after-easy-prey-for-the-night bucket. But I gave up and face some people look for the rest of the journey.

Tuk-Tuk Picture from a Tuk-Tuk

Luckily the group split and a group of 3 Irish girls, 1 Mexican-German and me emerged from the bus. We had all booked the intense version if the tour: 2 days and one night in the country side. The first day we went trekking up and down hills and the multiple bush fires that happen during the hot season. The surreal vision of walking through buses in fire made me realized that we could have been in trouble if anything happen to us. After some 10 K or so, we arrived at the waterfall village where we were supposed to spend the night. The shower was believe it or not at the waterfall, and the must have been as quick as I could have done trying to breath trough the iceberg coming down on me.

Tuk-Tuk Girl

One of the Irish girl’s was peanut allergic and she was not sure if she could eat the supper, so I asked the cook-guide (true, to his defense it was the second time I asked in 10 minutes), and he answered me with a clear and loud “Funk You”. That was the first time that a guide told me to Funk Myself in public. I must have disturbed him during his Dr Feelgood prescription (Pavo pipe ceremony). Next time I will check the color of the smoke before asking any question, even if somebody’s life depends on it.

Bushfire Trails

Rice, Tofu and local beer helped us to reach the night. We concluded the evening with some campfire songs and stick games that our guide told us. The night was short cold and rough on the quasi open air and bamboo beds, but we did not care that much because that was the day we were going to ride elephants and we all came for that exercise. I was already fantasized on playing soccer with a troupe of the giant mammal, but was only going to step on her neck and be balanced from right to left during a small hour over a calm and shadowed trail. That was the highlight of the day and the way back home was speechless because of tiresome and golden memories.

Elephant riding

What was not my surprise when I cam back to the hostel, when I found out that my bag that I left over there for my trip was gone. I had few things in it like a sleeping bag, and a guide book and other small stuff that did not matter to me. The hostel manager did not know what to say and started by doubting my saying, ignoring my comments. After some confirmation and some confrontation we came to the agreement that he was going to provide me with a replacement of my missing two important items: the sleeping bag and the guide book. That was at that time when I lost my temper; it was later on, when the 12 years old kid refused to let me use the Internet connection pretending that it was his right to block me the access. Still don’t know why he did not want me to use it. So I went out and used somebody else connection to check my emails.

Village's laught

The evening was much more sympathetic with K the Mexican-German. We talk about everything in general and anything in particular. Traveling is great only if you meet people that you want to see again. Hope that we could see each other again speak the common languages we know. We went to the Night Market which is the local attraction in town. It is only a bunch of booth aligns to sell tourist outfit to the white-socks-and-blue-short-looking-after-easy-prey-for-the-night bucket and other ones. A lot of lights but many crappy things around you anyway. Good to see something else that the regular bar for the white-socks-and-blue-short-looking-after-easy-prey-for-the-night bucket.

Food is one of the delicacies of the Thai country, so the last night before finally Doing It, I went for the Green Chicken Curry. Spicy food is not really my thing but there I had to finish my plate. Not because I liked it (I barely taste anything) but more because stopping made my mouth and my tongue in pain. I keep eating just to avoid the pain of the spice. That was a bad move when you think about it. If it’s spicy, don’t eat more spicy. That was the only thing I had around me, and the beer was long time gone before I could used it against my local anesthesia. I hoped at the time that eating even more could make my mouth used to the spicy. In vain. I stopped when my tears started dropping on the plastic table, alerting the Ladyboy-waiter that I was in trouble. He offered me some more rice and laugh at me. After some ½ hour of stiff contemplation of the design of the plastic table with some random tears dropping, I finally managed to stand up and took controlled of my body (mouth and tongue not included). The mistake I made was the started I ordered. I had some garlic prawns. During the rest of the night I burped not only the garlic prawns (OK with that), but the Spicy Chicken as well (not OK with that). It burnt more each time I regurgitated my evening meal. Thai food killed me that night, and when you think that Green is the medium one, you have the Red Curry!

Chiang Mai Motorcycle

On my way back to the hostel, I was dizzy enough to jump on the first Tuk-Tuk I saw but on the driver seat. To my surprise, the owner sat in the back and guided me to manoeuvre the best. My dream was coming true. I was able to drive a local taxi finally after so many attempts over the different month and countries. Unfortunately the police stopped us and asked for my paper. My fair complexion did not make the deal for the well educated officer. We switched seat, after the police warning, but I did not care I drove a local taxi, and I did not negotiate for it … Life is sometime too simple.

The story
The amazing thing in travels is that your learn stories. Travelling with 1 Mexican and 3 Irish you would not imagine that you could have a story that could relate the 2 countries together. You are wrong. When Mexico was fighting for it freedom againts the Texas Rangers at the time, there were helped by the Irish. As soon as the Texas Rangers saw the Irish, the keep yelling "Green Go". Mexicans did not really understand the meaning of it, and change it to later on to "Gringo". That's why now that for all Latinos call the American "Gringos" just because of the Irish during the Mexican Independance War. Go figure Bob ...

Magic Moment
Listening to Ella & Louis, Cheeck to Cheek in a Cafe drinking my Fresh Passion Fruit Shake, watching 2 students in architecture playing Go.