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Chiang Mai

Written on: Friday February 8th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

Arriving back in Houay Xai earlier than I expected I immediately but extremely sadly, set about exiting Laos to make it to Pai In Thailand, where that very weekend the annual Reggae Festival was taking place. With the sun streaming on my back I made my way to the extremely laid back Lao border control where with my 60 day Lao visa that I somehow managed to get (most normal Lao visas are only for 30 days) I was stamped out of the country and began looking forward to what Thailand had to offer, but was also very aware of the sadness I felt at leaving one of the all-round best countries I had yet visited I crossed the Mekong and subsequently out of Laos thanks to the aid of the water boatman, and was duly stamped in to Thailand just as leisurely as I left Laos. The customs officer even bantered with me about Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard as he perused my passport for a spare page.


I didn?t stay long in the border town of Chiang Khong, remaining there only long enough to take some Thai baht out from the strange sight of a cash machine, and arrange a mini-van to take me to Chiang Mai where the following day I could travel up to Pai from. I don?t think I?ve ever traveled in a more pimped out vehicle. The two sub-woofers in the boot rivaled the size of any speakers you would see in a New York nightclub, and the funky controls in the front, complete with whirling blue liquid dials and purple flashing combobubites, were straight out of a science fiction movie. To top it off the two other couples that were accompanying me were only doing so up until Chiang Rai, and so for the remaining three hours ahead I had the back of the pimp wagon to myself to lay out in and catch up with a few hours sleep.


We arrived in Chiang Mai under dusk, aware that I was being driven down a small alleyway and similarly aware that there were several well documented scams about farangs (Western tourists) being dropped at certain guesthouses where normally they wouldn?t stay but because of the time of the night and lack of energy they agreed to stay at. I was on guard. The guesthouse owner of the Chiang Mai Inn was to my surprise though most accommodating and impressed on me that if I didn?t like the look of the room he would take me wherever else it was in the town that I would want to go. At ease and liking the huge double bed and hot shower I was shown I decided to stay there after all.


I congratulated myself on my first night in Thailand by ordering a relatively expensive, but exquisite sirloin steak at a very plush German restaurant on Thanon Loi Khro, where the trees were thoughtfully decorated with atmospheric yellow bulbs, the waitresses went around electrocuting mossies with that tennis racket devise and the waiters, seemingly having a night off from their lady-boy antics, tried to hit on me.


Quite full and content I entertained myself wandering around the famous Chiang Mai Night Market, full of enough tat to please any middle aged bored housewife, purchased yet another pair of sunglasses after losing my last pair zipping across the jungles of Bokor and headed back to the Chiang Mai Inn for some much needed sleep. It was strange, but walking that night around this city trying to be persuaded at every corner to spend the night with the worryingly attractive prostitute, that until she/he spoke to you in a hoarse deep Frank Bruno voice you assumed was actually women.  It wasn?t just this though, I felt a weird feeling of anxiousness and apprehension at being back in a city. It had been so long since I had seen neon lights, three-laned highways and fast food outlets, and all of a sudden I wasn?t sure I was ready for them again. I kind of missed being back in a sleepy dusty town where most of the people you spoke to could only mutter the run of the mill English phrases. Minivan back to Laos?


Thankfully I awoke with a renewed energy for Thailand the next morning at 8am. I grabbed the freshest bowl of cornflakes I?ve had in a long time, booked my bus ticket for Pai, strolled around a few book shops and used the internet to find out what was going on in the rest of the world before ending my very short sty in Chiang Mai, the second biggest city in Thailand, to head for the final day of the Reggae Festival in Pai.