Chang Mai is a difficult destination to write about, I’ve decided, because I was so comfortable there. Other places have obvious stories — like when a rat unwrapped my chocolate bar and dragged it across the room in Puerto Lopez (I blamed Eric for leaving it half finished on the floor in front of a hole in the wall). Or when we were dumped out of a boat in open ocean in Fiji for snorkelling. It’s easy to write about these times, and it’s really not fair to places like Chang Mai.
In January, the weather in Chang Mai was perfect. 72 degrees and sunny. Not hot and humid like Bangkok. We’re on a Stray Asia tour and just getting to know our fellow tourmates. A great couple — Amy and Todd — got to know us first. We hit it off right away because Todd, though being frim Adelaide Australia, had lived in Seattle in the Grunge years. So we found him to be a real kimdred spirit. On mentioning places like “Greenwood” or “Ballard” he would throw his head back and shout “Yes!!”
Stray booked us into a very nice place where we had to remove our shoes in the foyer. This was a first for us. I was perplexed and consumed with the thought, “but I NEED my shoes.” They also gave us a tennis racket with which to electrocute all the mosquitoes in our room ala “The Green Mile.” Like in the movie, most bugs didn’t die right away and lay stuck to the racket burning and twitching for an uncomfortably long time. And without even a last meal.
Day one — I want to rush out and see all the sites listed on a hand-drawn map of Chang Mai that I bought on Ko San Road in Bangkok. Unfortunately, I have just started taking doxyclycline and Eric and I have become what he calls “doxy vampires.” Four minutes in the sun — with SPF 50 and we begin to sizzle like Angel on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (season 3 when he tried to commit suicide by sunrise on Christmas Eve).
In addition to burning skin, I also have constant naseau. But we still decide to venture out and see a few wats. All are covered in gold and flowers and butterlies and are something out of a Persian dream. One temple is rigged with wires to its highest points and what I’m sure are New Year’s explosives on the wires. They’re set to come out of the mouth of the dragon.
On wat three or four, I come out of a public bathroom (feeling naseaous) and a very perky woman approaches me and asks if I would like to see the local sites. I’m still pretending not to be sick at this point and agree to a modestly priced van tour of Chang Mai.
Our first stop is Umbrella Village where they make, paint and display tons of lovely umbrellas. We had seen these umbrellas all over the city in front of cafes. Then we went to a lacquer store, where they showed us the many steps involved in making lacquered plates, vases, etc. Lastly, a stop at a rug store, because our driver admitted she would get a gas coupon. The rug store was interesting, though, because it was run by Indians from Kashmir. We told them we were soon heading for India and they gave us a chai and we had a nice chat.
We then requested a trip to the big attraction in Chang Mai: Wat Doi Suthep. A striking golden temple atop a mountain. I had fully intended to climb the stairs to the top, but the doxy just wouldn’t allow it. Instead we took the cramped “elevator” to the top. From there we saw the lovely temple and a great view of Chang Mai.
That night I was able to fet down a burrito at a nearby Mexican restaurant. We felt obliged to visit as, of all the folks in Chang Mai, we had seen Mexico the most recently. It was pretty authentic, with even muertos on a shelf next to our table. Like going anywhere in Thailand, we were handed a flier for a Muy Thai fight tonight. First men, then women, then children.
The other kids from our tou started reporting in. Shane and a friend had had massages done by female convicts (being rehabilitated). He had a thief, but his friend had a murderer. The murderer was better. Amy and Todd had ridden elephants.
We went with the group to the night market and we all found the same stall with crispy noodle soup. The staffers were completely overwhelmed. Eric found a stall selling fried bananas but he refused to eat any but fresh ones and waited patiently as they fried new ones.
Overall, Chang Mai was extremely pleasant. Maybe it’s OK nothing memorable happened.