I’ve made it to the main northern city of Thailand, Chiang Mai, after an epic fifteen hour overnight train. The journey actually passed very well, due to the combined factors of meeting an entertaining couple of other solo passengers and my ability to sleep really well on trains – I slept like a baby on my sleeper berth, enjoying being lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking motion. Myself and my two train buddies (Melissa – a very interesting South African now living in Korea, and Ian, a very amusing 22 year old R-Patz lookalike from Leamington Spa of all places) made a rather strange trio, but it was actually a really fun evening.
All aboard the sleeper train at Bangkok station.
Melissa and Ian, comedy double-act.
Chiang Mai has a pleasant, relaxed feel about it despite the hectic streets crowded with mopeds, tuk tuks and taxis. There seems to be a Buddhist temple on every corner, bookshops and cafes line the streets, offering plenty of opportunity for laid-back people-watching, and the vivid orange of a monk’s robes is often spotted amongst the locals and travellers on the pavements. I did see a couple of younger monks smoking cigarettes, which confused and amused me in equal measures. I’m not sure Buddha’s recommended path to enlightenment includes sucking on narcotics.
Amongst today’s highlights has been another fantastic thai massage; this time the complete lying-down full-body experience. The masseuse seemed to use every part of her limbs to expertly apply pressure, whilst firmly manipulating me into various bizarre positions – it was like yoga for lazy people. I absolutely loved it and definitely walked taller afterwards. Other highlights were experiencing the sudden and violent ferocity of a monsoon squall, and then enjoying a white-knuckle tuk-tuk ride in the storm’s aftermath, as it weaved through dense, rush-hour traffic and fallen tree carnage alike in the fading light.
Donning the rather amusing special thai massage outfit – at this point I knew my masseuse meant business… (And yes, that is a very attractive film of sweat on my face.)
This is a famous Chiang Mai monument, called The Three Kings. I would insert the word ‘Camp’ into the title somewhere, if it was up to me.
Sheltering from the deluge. The insanely heavy rain was accompanied by really strong gusts of wind that sent signs flying, trees toppling and roofs flapping. It was enough to make us retreat off the street and inside a cafe, for fear of being hit by flying debris. An incredible force of nature.
I visited a fair few of the temples during the day – they are mostly very gaudy and glitzy, gleaming with gold ornaments and broken mirror-piece mosaics. Interesting to see, but not really my thing, aesthetically-speaking. However, we came across one temple tucked away on a back street, that had a magically serene atmosphere with peaceful gardens and trickling fountains. It was a timber, fairly unobtrusive structure, which, unlike most of the temples, didn’t ostentatiously scream out its ornate credentials with a host of giant, gold statues. Instead, a row of fluttering warmly yellow flags provided the majority of the colour, as well as a single gold seated buddha in the gardens, which was (slightly eerily, I thought) surrounded by miniature stone figurines in a posture of worship – very striking indeed.
The buddha retains serenity amidst rapt adulation.
I finished the day with a wander round the very touristy night markets. I am not good at tolerating the endless barrage of “Yes, hello madam – I give you good price” so didn’t last that long. However, I lasted long enough to dust off my haggling skills and purchase a pretty sarong (I sadly left the lovely sarong that’s been my faithful travel companion for many years in a hostel in Oz :(). I also had my first culinary experience of the freshly cooked roti, a Thai street-food delicacy; completely lardy, but absolutely delicious.
Anyway, tomorrow, I have been persuaded by my train buddies to join them on a three day group trek into remote jungle, returning Friday evening. So I’ll definitely be incommunicado for a few days. However, hopefully I’ll return to the blog with tales of elephant rides, white-water rafting, a home-stay with a hill-tribe and various other (completely touristy) delights.