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Back in Thailand... and into Chiang Mai

Written on: Thursday July 26th, 2007

A journal entry from: Southeast Asia

As I was just leaving Luang Nam Tha, I had heard that the Chinese had built a new highway connecting the town (which is near the Chinese border) to Huay Xai along the Thai border in order to facilitate trade with Thailand.  I was overjoyed to hear this news, but of course, about 3 hours into the trip to the Thai border, I learned that torrential rains over the last couple of days had caused a mudslide to flop onto the highway.  This caused several delays, but I eventually made it into Chiang Khong, a Thai city that overlooks Laos across the Mekong River.  I slept in a wonderful little guesthouse, which comprised tiny bamboo huts with basic mattresses and a mosquito net for protection (picture attached).

And then I made it into Chiang Mai!  For those of you who don't know, Chiang Mai is known for its temples and its culture.  I checked out the most famous of these temples, including Wat Chiang Man and Wat Phra Singh.  The former caught my attention for being the oldest temple in the city, as well as for housing King Mengrai while he was supervising the construction of the city.  The latter represents typical northern Thai architecture, so I thought it would be worth checking out.  Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Suan Dok were also quite beautiful. 

While I was visiting a temple, someone called out to me: "Hello friend!  Come here!"  Naturally, I thought it was a tuk tuk driver trying to sell me a citywide package trip, so I sort of responded coldly at first.  Then, I glanced more carefully and noticed it was a saffron-robed monk who wanted to practice his English with a guy sporting a Canada flag on his backpack.  So of course, I sat with him and we chatted for a while.  He told me that he was studying at the monastic university in Chiang Mai and was originally from Battambang.  I half-impressed him with my horrible Khmer pronounciation, but he applauded generously.  He then told me all about what he was studying at school and kept me very interested.  He asked me what religion I ascribe to, and when I told him that I don't really believe in any one religion but have my own values, he said that was the smartest thing to do.  It was surprising to hear that, given that religious clerics from most other organized religions would just give a sermon to someone saying that.  He invited me to study meditation, but said I needed more than two days.  "Shucks!", I replied.  Maybe next time.  We exchanged phone numbers.

Having heard a lot of horrible things about Thai-style hilltribe treks, I decided against going on one of these.  However, I did visit the tribal museum to gain a little bit of insight on the many minority groups living around Chiang Mai.  I was especially interested because I had visited a Hmong village in Laos and Thailand contains a large Hmong population.  Apparently, I found out, many hilltribes have been spared "integration campaigns" by the governments of SE Asian countries simply as a result of a booming "tribe-related" tourism industry.  Ugh.

Chiang Mai is a beautiful city though, altogether.  The centre is surrounded by a moat that was once used to keep invaders out of the city.  I've spent quite a bit of time just roaming around this calm body of water and have even spoiled myself with ice cream on the rare occasion. 

From here, I will be going to Bangkok to make for a "smooth transition" back into North America.  It'll be really difficult getting away from this beautiful land with all the amazing people I've had the pleasure of meeting.  It truly is an area of the world that rewards you so much if you make an effort to get to know it.  I consider myself very lucky to have experienced it.  Bittersweet things I will miss:

*Hearing a bus driver yell "Oh my Buddha" when the bus breaks down in the Lao boonies.

*Always being quoted four times the price and then being forced to bargain.

*The putrid smells of major SE Asian cities (especially Vietnamese markets).  As Tina told me, "it makes you feel you're in a foreign land".

*Watching Aussie tourists make arses of themselves (only seldomly, of course).

*Going to a Cambodian karaoke bar in Battambang and being the only "westerner" there.

*The 24-hour bus ride between Hanoi and Vientiane.  I particularly loved the onions and the various sacks of mystery fruit.  Not to mention the lack of AC.

*Being scared half to death on my first night in Bangkok.  The chaos really did not sit well with me the first few days.

*Having 40-year old Thai ladies laugh hysterically at me when my swim shorts split in half at Khao Sok National Park.

This will probably be my last post!  I can't believe I have spent 2 months in SE Asia already.  Thanks to all of you who have left comments for me and who have otherwise tried to contact me.  It's been awesome hearing from you guys.  I kind of wish I had at least 4 months to visit all the countries I have visited so far, but I am looking forward to seeing everyone again.  Miami, Mamali, Babai o Paparesh, kheili delam baratun tang shodeh, va harchi zudtar baz dobareh hammatuno mibinam!


From Diane on Jul 28th, 2007

Va harchi zudtar baz dobareh hammatuno mibinam to you too Hossein (amazing the things you can do with cut and paste)! Hurray -I got the postcard - thought you'd like to know. Thanks! See you soon, weary and wondrous world traveller! xoxox - D

From Diane on Jul 29th, 2007

Haha. Oh Diane. How you amuse me! That's why I've always loved you so. You told me "And soon I'll see all of you!", which I will read as a "break a leg on the way back!". Thanks so much for all your thoughtful comments this past while. We'll do coffee ASAP when I get back (provided you have time)!