Days 11 and 12. Diary date: 12-13th October.
Yesterday’s antics in Chiang Mai—What’s Chiang Mai Really Like? Wat Phra Singh & Chedi Luang—are over. Horrible nights sleep. I blame the heat and the noise of a 12 person dorm. And sometimes it’s the silence, if it’s not the noise—there are 11 other people in here, have they all found sleep except me? Am I the only one struggling, or is one of them lying awake too, thinking the same as me?
But anyway, I fall into dreams eventually. Watch some Full Metal Alchemist. Think about some things that seem pivotal at the time, but which I won’t and don’t remember. Drift off unpeacefully.
I awake lazily and late—eat some toast, drink some coffee, leave the hostel. We begin our wander through Chiang Mai, with a vague plot in mind: get a songthaew up to the mountain-temple Wat Thra Suthep.
But first, some cute food!
Our plot fails. We’re hanging out at the Northern perimeter of the city—looks like it’s called Manee Nopparat Road—where you’re supposed to wait to hail a ride up the mountain. It’s an hour journey one way, so they won’t take you unless the vehicle is full. Unless you’re willing to pay, a lot, that is, which we weren’t.
There’s no one around. Are we in the wrong spot? Maybe it’s just a quiet day? I don’t know. We wait and we wait. S tries to negotiate a better price. No luck. We’re there for an hour and we’re irritable, so we go back to the hostel and have just nap. Kind of a failure of a day so far, right?
Thai Akha Cooking Class
We gotta turn it around, do something noteworthy. So, we ask our host, Joe, what to do. We pick an activity, he makes a phone call, and at 4pm we have a spot on the Thai Akha cooking class! Thanks Joe.
All the food comes out amazing, especially the spring rolls and sweet & sour tofu. We leave with some cool spices and recipe book and a lovely experience under the belt—10/10, would recommend
Tofu Tom Yum soup, spring rolls, Massaman curry, and mango sticky rice! The room breathes, exhaling the smells of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, nutmeg…
Ahhhh I’m getting excited just thinking about it. When I think back on that cooking class now, in my mind the room shimmers in with a sort of warm, golden hue. Isn’t that funny?
This was the first cooking class I’ve ever done too. The host dropped a load of knowledge bombs and I walk away feeling (incorrectly) like I could cook any Thai dish from this moment forward.
At the end, everyone in the class sits around for a meal. The lady running the class tells some super interesting stories—one involving how she ate her dog once it died.
“What!?”, you ask?
Yeah, let me just carefully skirt around passing comment on that. Apparently it’s a cultural choice or even necessity in certain parts of (very) northern Thailand. Who am I to say anything? Most people don’t bat an eye at eating what are considered “livestock” animals, I guess. Where does the distinction lie?
Also, somehow the story that she told was… inspiring? Something about how an elder in her village told her, “if you do not want everyone to eat, we won’t—but you spare your dog no suffering; but if you decide we can eat, then you spare suffering for many”.
I’ve butchered the quote, but it went something like that. She continued that the Akha people have a saying: “There are only three things in the jungle that you can’t eat, and nobody knows what they are”.
All in all, it probably came to about £35 for over 2 hours and all that food? I think, we can all agree, it’s more than worth it. Def worth a try if you’re in Chiang Mai!
An evening in Chaing Mai
Then to the weekend market near our hostel where we don’t really find anything too interesting. We drink a few beers while wandering through the weekend market, letting the flow of people carry us through.
Back at the hostel we play some Ratchet and Clank on the hostel’s PS4. This game slaps and holds some powerful nostalgia! You know those little memories that have some magic touch on ’em? Something that holds all the more power because it was buried young and you can’t fully uncover it? Well, the below image is one of those for me. I don’t know why. Guess it just comes from your brain clicking with something as a kid, and then forgetting about—and as you see it again the neural link is still there, shooting for the first time in a decade. Plus, the little agents of doom are cute.
Day 12, 13th October.
On the beauty of doing nothing
Today, we’re feeling a bit directionless. We’ll be on the move tomorrow, so we’ll spend today as a bit of a nothing day.
You know, as I look back at these travelling notes, I feel guilty. There’s so much time that we spent not doing much of anything! I think: how am I gonna translate this into something interesting?
But then I realise—I loved it at the time. How often can you say you truly have nothing to do? No obligations, no appointments, no tasks. Sometimes, doing nothing is a privilege. It’s not always action and events. Often, looking back now, I just remember how I felt, the atmosphere of a place. The joys of doing nothing, a little bit of something—walking, talking—but really, nothing. Honey’d Indolence.
And it’s not every day you wanna spend endlessly doing touristy stuff, either. Sometimes you just wanna eat some nice things, enjoy the sun on your skin and look through an old bookshop. So that’s what we did.
Anyway, aside over. We eat at Taste from Heaven, a veggie place on Ratmakka road. I have this pretty peng “chicken” wrap and an iced coffee. We browse a book store which is lovely and calm and makes me remember how exciting finding a book you’re super interested in is. I don’t buy anything though because my backpack is too-many-kilos heavy already and I’d be a fool to stuff it full of more books. I’ve already got a “backpackers guide to Southeast Asia” dense enough to hammer a tent peg—which I doubt I’ll read—and a copy of Dune Messiah. I don’t regret bringing Dune Messiah, though. Read a little bit more about my thoughts on Dune and science fiction, while you’re here!
We look inside a tattoo shop, toy with the idea, discard it. For now. Find ourselves walking through a public park, admiring flowers and fish and people living. The streets here have a great vibe. People just be chilling.
Then it’s time for the Sunday market. How interesting and lively markets are over here, and how uninspiring and dampened back home. I’m sure you get tired of anything, though. But for now, I walk through the market and inhale all the colours, wide-eyed.
Story time with Chiang Mai’s ex-pats
Me and S have some beers and sit on the hostel veranda. As we sit and the evening moves on, different people walk by and decide to sit for a chat. We hear some crazy stories from the ex-pats living here. It’s quite funny really—we’re just sitting outside on this cool, calm evening watching the world go by, and everyone wants to talk. I guess people who move abroad get lonely sometimes.
One lady tells us about a friend she had who was sitting in a bar in Cambodia, and said the wrong thing to policeman also sitting in the bar. The policeman shot the westerner in the head, point-blank. Or so the story goes. Can that be true? I don’t know. A quick google search returns some headlines, so I guess it’s possible. But nothing that exactly fits the description.
Another ex-pat has a pretty harrowing vibe. He sits down with outside our hostel, asks for a cigarette. We think he’ll be off, but he just stays. He’s from America. His wife left him, kids don’t speak to him. Not sure why, didn’t want to probe. He’s moved to Thailand to “live cheap and bang whores”. These are his is words, let me stress. Dude’s making us kinda uncomfortable now. But here’s one part of the conversation that stands out to me.
“What are you gonna do when the money runs out?”, I ask.
“…Suicide”, he says.
The deadpan delivery and brutal honesty was raw to hear and strange to process. I’ve never really heard that kind of straightforwardness from someone before. What are we gonna do, tell him to change his mind? He’s lived here for years. This is what he’s resigned to. I didn’t know what to say about it then, and I don’t now.
So, that night we decide we want to stay on the move, stay busy, see new places, and Pai is the next logical step. We haven’t really done any of the sightseeing in Chaing Mai, but you need to pass back through to go anywhere else really—Chiang Mai acts as a sort of hub in the north. So we’ll sightsee later. Doi Suthep, we’re coming back for you.
Again I have trouble sleeping but cba to care about that now. I think Pai will be incredible. Only heard great things online—sounds like some kinda hippie paradise. Let’s see if it lives up to its reputation.