The Chiang Mai Marathon

It’s Saturday and I have all day in Chiang Mai and then I leave tomorrow in the afternoon. I have nothing planned except to walk around and stumble across things to do. There is a part of the city called “The Old City” that is right next to the neighborhood that I’m staying in at the Guesthouse. The Guesthouse was the one thing I did research for because I want it to be clean, in a good location, and make me feel safe. The location is good because on one side is the Old City and the other is a big river that goes through town. However, today I’m only going to go and explore the Old City.

I don’t want to walk down that same street I went down last night with all the massage and bar ladies yelling at me. I know the general direction of the Old City, so I just walk up one more block and end up on a very wide and busy street. There’s an old temple there that I go in and look around. There are so many cars it looks to me like a parking lot. I’m not sure if they’re just visitors or if the monks in Chiang Mai are allowed to have them.

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That picture is the exit walkway out of the temple. Although it had some interesting architecture, I got bored of the temple pretty quickly and kept walking down the street. My goal this morning is to find a nice small quiet bakery with a good cup of coffee and a display case of pastries for me to choose from. I don’t want to pick one of the bigger places because I like the atmosphere of the small ones. I can chat with the people working there and maybe learn a little more Thai.

Okay, back down the street. I’m walking for literally a minute and I’m distracted by another temple. I have the attention span of a rabbit, so this café thing is probably going to be more like lunch. But, this temple has more dragons then I’ve ever seen on another temple, I took a picture to show.

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All of those curvy points on the corners are dragons. Normally, I see maybe four or six on the very top corners of the temples, but apparently this temple really likes them. This time I don’t go in because I’m getting a bit hungry.

I cross through the walled part of the Old City boundary by where a Night Market was last night. There’s still a small market there, but not quite what it was then. I’m still not interested in markets meant for tourists like this. I’d much rather go to a market where I’m the only foreign person. Then I get to walk around and get a feel of the culture and food and things they by and sell.

I literally walk down the same road parallel to one side of the moat that I went down last night. I remember I didn’t see any bakeries, so I turn off onto a side street that looks pretty quiet. I saw it last night, but avoided it because I don’t know this city at all and don’t want to go into the wrong areas at night. I see a sign for a bakery not too far down the small pathway entrance and I immediately go in to check it out. The location is already giving me good vibes, but I have some other boxes to check. There are baked goods at the front, check, and some in the store and what looks like a nice coffee selection, check and check. I see a few different choices with fruit on them, there’s an extra point for them. Perfect. They continue to earn extra points when I finish drooling on the counter looking at the pastries; I look up and realize there’s a beautiful Thai woman working there, who speaks quite good English. I order some coffee and a pastry and then decide to sit outside and watch people walk by. I take out my map and go back in the shop to ask her about where exactly the Old City is and if it’s good to walk around. She stops what she was doing and really puts a lot of effort into helping me. She says that the old city is surrounded by a moat kind of thing and the only way in and out is over the bridges. Some are for cars and some just for people walking. Then she tells me about all this other touristy stuff and I giver her a look like I’m falling asleep. I told her I’m not interested in seeing that stuff. Finally I stop bothering her and let her get back to work, mostly because her work is directly related to my fruit pastry right now. I decide to sit inside because I want to keep talking with her and try and learn some Thai words while I’m at it. All right, I’ll stop BSing my self, I’m really sitting in here so I can keep flirting with her. There’s something about flirting in a second language that I just love for some reason. On the surface it seems like it would be difficult and maybe even terrifying if you’re the one speaking the second language, but I think it makes it more fun. I’m feeling so grateful at this moment because I’m eating a wonderful fruit pastry, in a quiet bakery, It’s not dinner time, and I have a beautiful Thai woman to practice Thai with, I mean to try and hit on. I’m not sure life gets much better than this.

I finish my food and go up to the counter to keep talking to her. Even though there were no guests she was behind the desk the whole time, except for when I thought of a stupid question to ask her, but soon after she put way more seriousness into the question than I did, she went back to the counter. I finish my food and go up to the counter to pay. She asks how long I’ll be in Chiang Mai and looks at me like I’m crazy when I say only for a day and a half. I tell her it’s because I’m living in Laos and go through the whole schpeal of my visa and needing to leave often. She asks me about my work and I try to explain it to her, but I don’t think she understands the English. She repeats some word, “traaaining”, exactly like how I do when I don’t understand a word, so now I have to try and switch the tables on myself and use a language I’m not so comfortable with. I’ve explained it so many times in Lao, so I figure I’ll give it a try and see if she understands. I go through the whole explanaition and she’s nodding and making “oooh” sounds, like she’s either finally understanding or, probably more true, just a nice person. I guess the words are different, but close enough to understand what I’m saying because she explains some of it back to me in English to make sure. She teaches me some of the differences between the Thai word and how close it is to the Lao that I spoke to her. I ask her how to say thank you again because I forget every time I have the damn opportunity, like right now. I notice that her level of interest has changed drastically. She has a different look of interest on her face, so that just encourages me to keep rambling on. I’m not sure if she’s interested in finding out more about why I’m in Laos, or if she’s just excited that I can communicate in something kind of close to her language. The only problem is that when she responds, I don’t understand her…Or that’s actually the best thing that I’ve ever heard. After all, I am the only one who has ever has anything interesting to say anyway. Nooow, I think I’m beginning to understand why I like to flirt in a second language.

I ask her to teach me more Thai and she says that when women are speaking they will say kaa at the end of the sentence and men say krap, with a rolled r sound. My maturity level is not high enough for this to be saying crap at the end of my sentences. Try to hold in my giggles I ask how to use it in different situations and then soon find out I was doing it all wrong before. I was saying kaa to the women and krap to the men. But, as a man I should only be saying krap, whether I’m speaking to women or men. Whoops, that’s a bit embarrassing. Apparently, the only men who say kaa at the end of their sentences are those who are dressed in women’s clothes parading around the street, looking for attention. Good thing I only said it to a few of those massage ladies on that street. Oh gosh, no wonder they were calling at me so much, maybe they were trying to recruit me to work for them. Wow, I’m sorry, that was a disturbing thought. I’ll certainly never forget that rule for the rest of my life now. We talk for about 10 more minutes and I completely forget that I’m up there to pay. I snap back to reality to pay and then start to lean toward the door, like I’m ready to continue on my way. She asks for my facebook and after I give it to her I decide to leave before I suddenly find my self with a new Thai girlfriend… or maybe it’s too late for that.

I keep going down the same direction on this small path. My plan is still to go around in the Old City and want to cover the whole thing today, with no plan other than just trying to get an idea of the culture, taste the food, and get some good exercise. Here’s a picture of some of the walls that surround the city.

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The red car in the second picture is the typical taxi in the area. Like I said there are red and yellow ones. Then there are also much smaller ones on the back of motorcycles or bikes. Those aren’t red, but are very obvious for their purpose, unlike these other red cars. From the front they look like paramedics trucks in the US. Yeah, yeah, yeah I figured it out after I saw it from this perspective with the seats in the back.

After a lot longer walking around I stop at a random guesthouse to ask where I am on the map because I think I’m a bit off. The man is very nice and speaks great English. He even gives me a new map to look at and tells me to keep it for myself. Then as I’m looking he brings me a cup of water. The hospitality here is really impressive. I find a place called something about mangos and I decide I’ll go there for lunch. Then as I’m walking I snap out of it and tell myself I need to fight my western-minded urge to have everything planned and in order of where and when to go. Instead of going toward the mango place I turn randomly down another street and just decide to stop where looks good. I pass by a place with the locally famous food called Kao Soy. I take a seat and order. The soup is a light curry soup with crunchy noodles some onions and other herbs with chicken and softer noodles. I’m quite amazed at how good it is and how lucky I got just running into this place randomly. See, the universe is rewarding me for not being stuck with plans. I much more like the using my intuition when traveling. I did that so much in Ghana and had such good success, but that’s mostly because I had no other choice. There wasn’t a database of reviews and suggestions from tourists on where to go because most of the places I had been tourists didn’t want to visit. I would have never seen in a tourist book to travel from the middle of Ghana up to Burkina Faso by hitch hiking, but when I did I had a great adventure. I decide that even though it’s much easier to plan here, I’m going to avoid that because those aren’t even the things I’m after anyway. I want to get a better understanding of the culture and get to know maybe some local people. A good example of this is when I met that volunteer policeman and that evangelical guy, whom I would have never met or talked with if I didn’t have this kind of mindset. Those interactions to me are much more special then seeing a really old building.

I walk down the street and practice asking how much for things in Thai. Even if I don’t understand the answer, I just want to practice that phrase and listening to their responses. I go to a fruit juice stand and ask her how much and I understand her answer perfectly. She tells me that the one in front of me is hok sip and next to it is sii sip, which means 60 and 40. I think, “wow, that’s crazily expensive” and walk away. Then, I remember that I’m not asking for the price in Kip. 60 thousand kip, which is what I was thinking of, is about 8 dollars, which is way too much for a small plastic bottle of fruit juice, even if it is really fresh. Then I remember that 60 Bhat is a little under 2 dollars and realized that was much cheaper than I thought. Well too late, I’m going to keep walking around and remember that for next time. On the next corner, randomly, I find the mango place. I laugh because it’s an ice cream place and if I had gone there thinking of lunch I would have been disappointed. Now it’s perfect, so I go in and get some jackfruit ice cream. I still have a longing to eat jackfruit after I tried it in Ghana. I’m pretty sure that it’s common here since I learned the word for it already in my Lao lessons and eaten the unripe version, so I think it’s just not the right season right now. I’m an American though; it’s preposterous to ask me to wait for fruit to be in season!

I keep walking around like this for the rest of the day. I literally walked around from 8 in the morning until dinnertime. I’m still full from my snack breaks when I got tired, but now I’m looking for a small pub atmosphere where I can have a beer and relax for the rest of the night. I walk for about 30 minutes with this in mind, but find nothing. I already had broken my promise to myself and tried to do some research while I was taking a quick rest at my guesthouse. Half way through the search I just closed everything up and left, but had some kind of an idea. I followed the crowds of people thinking that would lead me somewhere. I was trying to remember where the concentration of the bars were on the map, but then I decided to take a side alley down a residential part of the Old City. It was really quite and quite nice actually. Very different from the rest of the city I’ve seen so far. However, my legs are starting to get really tired and I’m ready just to find somewhere. It’s not really the sore tired, it’s more like that tired you get after standing in lines all day at Disneyland. I start heading down in the direction back to the bars by my guest house and wouldn’t you know it I find a place called Pirates Cove with two old white men, one being the bartender and the other drinking a beer. I figure it’s at least worth a shot and I can just drink a beer and leave if it’s terrible.

I greet them and sit down. The bartender has a barreling voice and it suddenly realize how opposite of deep my voice sounds. The situation makes me feel like I’m too young to be her for some reason. I don’t normally go to bars like this, so it feels a bit out of place for me as well. I sit down anyway and tell him to get me the big bottle of beer. Maybe that will make up for my mickey mouse voice. He has an Australian accent and seems like the friendly bartender type. I greet the old man to my right and he greets me back in what sounds like perfect English. I’m guessing he’s from America somewhere, but don’t ask yet. I find out he’s been here for 7 years, just outside of town, but don’t ask too many details right away. I can tell their good friends by the way they’re talking to each other and that this is the kind of place I was looking for. I wanted to find the old bar place with their usual characters who come around all the time. Then, an older bald man comes up who must be another character here by the way they all greet him. He looks like a big German Soldier from world war two. He has a big square face that’s a bit red, like maybe he comes here and drink a bit too often. He also sounds like he’s drunk already with his heavy accented slurred speech. Then the bartender’s, who I find out is also the owner, Thai wife comes and talks with everyone. She is very friendly and links everyone together in one big conversation. I’m enjoying their conversations and as we’re talking another older man comes and sits behind us in at a table. I can tell right away he’s an American by the way he talks. I guess the older man sitting at the bar and the German looking one are from Holland and the last one who came in is from New York. A much younger man comes in and completes the set of regular people who probably meet here every night by the way they’re talking together. I find out the last guy is from California and he tells me he’s from a small town that I won’t know of called Frasier Park. I laugh and tell him I know that mountain area between Santa Clarita and Bakersfield very well. I find out he’s a forest fire fighter who takes off the 6 non-fire months of the year off to travel to Thailand. I end up sitting with these guys until about midnight chatting away. I find out a lot of interesting things about visas, which will be great when I want to come back here to stay in the monastery after my job with PoP is over. I also find out that the street next to my guest house, with all the women yelling at me, used to be referred to as the sin street and they talked about how it’s getting more sophisticated with the nice restaurants, but still has that edge with the prostitutes. I also do some more research and find out from some travel blogs that those women at the bars and the massage places are exactly as I expected. They’re basically cheap prostitutes for the desperate tourists. That sounds like rock bottom to me. I guess there’s going to be a part like that in any fast developing city.

We all finish talking and everyone goes off their separate ways home. I walk down the rest of the prostitute street, which probably isn’t fair to call it that, but I think it’s funny after our conversation. It’s nice in the daytime and feels safe, it’s just not a place I want to hang out in after about 9:00. Everyone’s busy with closing out their customers, so no one bothers me on the way home. It was the peak of the grossness when all the young Thai women at the bars were paired up with old white men. I make my way straight back in order to get some rest and get up early tomorrow before I get on m flight in afternoon.

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