My week stint in Chiang Mai has been nothing short of adventurous, colorful, informative and fun. I’ve stayed in numerous places, met many people, made friends with an American (there aren’t many of us here) and an Austrian. I’ve studied Thai every day with my tutor Rassada who has – in addition to helping me learn the Thai basics – given me a bird’s-eye view into her life, Thai culture and the city of Chiang Mai itself.
I have had Thai massage, spontaneous dinners with Israeli new-agers, and have exchanged travel stories with people the world-over. I’ve heard some horror stories in addition to wonderful tales from the people I’ve met. One of the many joys of traveling alone is you are wide open to everyone around you and the exchanges come often and easily. I’ve visited three hill tribe villages, danced with tribal Akha women, discussed herbs with a Hmong man who showed me dried tiger penis (used as a medicinal sexual enhancer), been asked on a date by a half-Greek half-British chap, toured many temples (wats), chatted with monks, discovered Mexican food (hot damn!), and wandered through the winding paths of many markets. I’ve shot many photos, strolled the length of the city moat, explored the city’s graffiti, and have even found some down time to read and study.
I’ve grown quite comfortable here. Chiang Mai is mellow enough to be a walking city with more things to do than there are hours in the day. It’s also big enough that you have access to many amenities including herbal steam baths, clubs, bars, coffee shops and used book stores. Wifi is pulsing throughout the city and if you need a break from Thai cuisine you can choose between Mexican, Italian, Japanese, and Korean. Not bad.
You can study just about anything here. Chiang Mai is undoubtedly a city of universities and learning centers. Should you want to learn how to cook Thai food, learn Thai massage, Reiki, Yoga, Meditation, Thai language or herbalism – whatever you want, they got it. There are small pockets of hippies and yogis who have made their home here. They’re mostly middle-agers who have clearly grown tired of the Western way of life, have jumped ship and don’t plan on returning any time soon. I don’t hang with them much but their very existence here means I have access to organic salads with avocado, kombucha tea and vegan ice cream. For that, I thank them.
I’ve conversed in Thai with taxi drivers, guesthouse managers, and the women who do my laundry. Each and every time, upon hearing me try to speak their language, their eyes light up and they welcome me in. My Thai is far from good but at least I’m trying and I think the Thais take pride in this. They laugh at my mispronunciation and correct me when I’m wrong. The Thais continue to amaze me with their kind-hearted openness. Such remarkably friendly people. I seek out authentic Thai markets when I can and often I am the only Westerner there, sitting at a table by myself or with other Thais, eating some amazing street food that never costs me more than $1.33.
But our time has come to an end. For now at least. Tomorrow I head to Mae Sai which is about five hours north of Chiang Mai on the border of Burma. I’ll arrive around 5 p.m. and will finally meet my DEPDC volunteer coordinator who I’ve been talking with periodically on the phone and via Skype since December. He has arranged an apartment for me which will cost roughly $80 per month. No contract. No deposit. I’m really excited to head to my home for the next four months, fully unpack and settle in, and begin my work with DEPDC. The next chapter is about to reveal itself…
I’m spending the evening relaxing on my lovely private balcony overlooking Moon Muang Soi 7. Google Earth it if you want. I’m waving to you right now! I’ve got some chocolate cake – a sweet score from an organic bakery – some True Blood for later and a one way ticket to Mae Sai in the morning. Things are good. They are better than good. Reporting live from Chiang Mai. Romeo, Alpha, Delta. Over and out.