Friday, October 12, 2012

Chiang Mai, Thailand, and getting home

Planning this trip was difficult; originally, we'd planned to go to Tibet and Nepal, with a side jaunt to Myanmar. That fell through and we focused on Myanmar, including time in the western part of the state, Sittwe and Mrauk U. That part fell through because of the ongoing violence in Rakhine state, so we took the days we'd planned to spend in Sittwe and Mrauk U and cast around for a place to spend them. We decided Chiang Mai, in Thailand, would be a good diversion. We didn't think we needed more days in any of our Myanmar spots (and it turned out we were right), and I have some qualms about Thailand but Chiang Mai seemed more accessible in terms of my concerns. When we were in the airport in NYC, getting ready to fly off to Myanmar, we talked about what we expected. I asked Marc what part of the trip he expected to like most, and he said Chiang Mai -- and I agreed! We just didn't know what to expect in Myanmar, and we hadn't read great comments about the food (always one of our favorite things about our trips), so we figured if nothing else, we'd eat some fantastic Thai food in Chiang Mai. Boy were we wrong, on all counts! We absolutely loved Myanmar, and struggled in Chiang Mai.

One 'problem' was that the place is clogged with tourists. Everywhere you look, tourists of all kinds. Lots of slightly plump young white women with long dreadlocks decorated with silver clips, and wearing big harem pants. Lots of white backpackers. Lots of old people -- not like us!! NO! Lots of middle-aged couples, lots of young couples. Lots and lots of tourists. And probably a lot of the people who looked like natives were tourists, too, since Thailand is an easy hop from China. Here's what one does in Chiang Mai, apparently:

  1. Thai cooking classes
  2. Thai massage
  3. Shop and eat
  4. Visit elephant camps
  5. Visit a gibbon sanctuary
  6. Visit the many wats

Marc is a better Thai cook than anyone, anywhere, so we didn't need Thai cooking classes. One can only be massaged so many times (arguable!). We tried hard to find good places to eat, on which more in a second, I didn't need to shop (and Thailand was expensive for our budget!), we didn't want to go see elephant camps or the gibbon sanctuary, and we were kind of wat-ted out, after Myanmar. Our hotel had a pool, but it was rainy in the hot afternoons, right when we'd want to swim. So mainly we walked around, piddled, and tried to find good restaurants.

we'd read that we should eat in the night market, and I cannot tell you
just how bad it was.  i have a picture of Marc's shrimp, but it's too depressing.
On a pink plate, small pre-cooked  shrimp in nasty bland sauce. Seriously?
They were all a bust, and we were starting to think we'd never find any decent Thai food in Chiang Mai, until our last night when we wandered into Lemongrass Restaurant, near the night market. By that point I'd given up hope that we'd find good food so I didn't have my camera, too bad, because the food was everything we'd fantasized we'd find -- fresh, and Thai, and hot. Then, on our last morning, we sprang for an hour of massage -- just wonderful, the best we've ever had on our travels -- and Marc found a little restaurant with no English, and amazing food, as good as I can get in NYC and that's saying something.

Otherwise, we took an hour boat trip on the Ping River that skirts around the city, and we went to the zoo. My joke on facebook was "I'm not saying Chiang Mai is boring, but we went to the zoo."

a gate leading to a bridge -- that's the king in the middle, there.

dragons at the wats

the gate leading into the old city, which is where we stayed

this is a moat kind of thing, just outside the old wall

this is my favorite wat of them all -- mostly teak, with gold trim

this holds offerings

here we are, heading out for our little boat ride

no idea why the king and queen need a billboard; our boat driver said
they love their king, he's a good king

quietly beautiful, just outside chiang mai

these large trees line the river; it's older than the US

a beautiful bas-relief wall near our hotel

pretty standard Thai wat

this one's quite unusual, all in white!

beautiful caged jaguar, poor thing. the zoo is old-fashioned.

Marc and an elephant, trained to bow (the elephant, not Marc)
All in all, Chiang Mai was a disappointment, until our final hours. We left Chiang Mai and flew to Kuala Lumpur for a night's sleep, and then on Sunday we flew to Hong Kong, sat around for a few hours, and then flew 16 hours home to NYC, arriving Sunday night at 10:30. I never can really wrap my head around the time when we make these trips. This time I never had a clue what day it was, probably because I couldn't get online. I really missed being able to share photos, and post more regularly.

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