Saturday, August 7
Chiang Mai, Thailand
A wonderful thing happened on the bus ride early this morning. Right before the bus stopped for food, the driver turned on the overhead lights and a lady who sat behind me tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the floor. I glanced down and there was my wallet. Luckily, all of my money--about $166--was still in it. I was fortunate that lady was so nice, as billions of other people would have scooped it up, for sure. (The only thing I keep in my wallet on this trip is a few days' worth of cash. All of my valuable cards, etc. are in my money belt.)
A guy who sat in front of me tried to recline so far back that his seat literally and physically touched my lap. I asked him to tilt it up two or three inches--especially since I had my backpack between my legs. (Certain busses between Bangkok and Chiang Mai are notorious for baggage theft. I doubted if this was one of them, though, as it departed from the bus station and not a tourist area.) The buffet joint we stopped at was all meat, so I had to settle for a bag of French fry-shaped potato sticks. A little while later, I finally got a little shut eye.
Around 6:00 a.m., the bus pulled in to the Arcade terminal, about two miles outside of central Chiang Mai. A guesthouse tout was on me as soon as I stepped off the bus, but I shut him down and walked around the terminal to look for a cheap way into town. I was surprised to see that the entire Internet was contained in a small kiosk there. It's quite impressive that microprocessors have shrunk that small and that Moore's law is still in effect! I finally found a mini-truck songthaew that dropped me off at the edge of town for 75 cents.
After I got my bearings, I hiked through a drizzling rain a half mile up to Grace House, where I rented a room for $5.00 per night. True to form in this price range, the walls are dirty and covered with sketchy drippy stains, but other than that, the place is fine. The shower didn't work, though, so Grace moved me into another room, and there was some construction noise across the street, which, luckily for me, became inaudible as I fell into a deep, daytime slumber.
I woke up around 4:00 p.m. and rented a mountain bike to cruise around Chiang Mai. It's a very picturesque town that still maintains remnants of its bohemian past amid some inevitable gentrification. Scores of tour operators offer treks up into the mountains, some to visit hill tribes, while others hike out into the jungle, go river rafting or take elephant rides. The central area of town is surrounded by a moat and the ruins of a large brick wall built around 1300 AD for defense against the Burmese. I tooled around it for a while and stopped for a visit to two Buddhist temples: Wat Sai Mun Muang and Wat Thung Yu, where a small group of Buddhist monks held a prayer service complete with beautiful singing, which I recorded a little snippet of.