Monday, August 9
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Although I only tasted a little tease of Chiang Mai, I'm going to miss this town, with its homegrown bookstores, vegetarian restaurants, cheap guesthouses, scenic temples and ruins, narrow alley atmosphere, and so much more. Even though part of it is really touristy, I really like the vibe here, and if I ever make it back to Thailand, I hope my next Chiang Mai visit is much longer.
After I woke up, I rode "my" bicycle a couple of miles North of central Chiang Mai to the Hill Tribe Museum. I figured since I didn't have time to go trekking to see the villagers in real life, I may as well make do with some dioramas! Much to my dismay, the building was closed due to reconstruction. Dang! At least I burned a few calories and sweat a couple of gallons. Next, instead of building an igloo to nap in, I did the next best thing and pedaled around the entire circumference of the moat that surrounds Chiang Mai's old town, snapping photos the whole way.
I was hyped to find a health food joint that served American-style smoothies, which are thicker than their Southeast Asian counterparts. The place even had free Internet on two computers. How 1998! After one last chow-down at May Kaidee's, I returned the mountain bike to the nice old lady with a big, weird lump on her left cheek, then picked up my backpack from Grace House, making sure to stuff it with a few homemade cookies from the rad, country store-like shop / cafe downstairs.
As a light sprinkling from above pelted my sweat-saturated shirt, I hiked through central Chiang Mai for a little while, missing the street toward the Arcade bus terminal, which standardly caused me to walk in a big, unnecessary circle. After I got back on track, I was about a third of the way through the 1.5 mile trek when I hopped onboard a mini-truck songthaew tightly packed with school kids and grandmas for the remaining mile. After I bought my ticket to Bangkok, I parked my hot, sweaty, soul-holding blob in front of a big fan and zoned out for a couple of hours.
Whenever I wasn't nearly falling asleep, I cracked up at the ticket clerk ladies who pitched fares in a more over-the-top manner than just about any hawker of any kind I've seen on this whole trip. Whenever anyone new entered the terminal, these ladies would project their tinny, Thai, sliding-pitched pleas for that person to purchase a ticket from their bus company at their window. One time, when a young man turned toward two windows right next to each other, each containing two clerks, a totally hectic verbal spar exploded as each pair of ladies tried to intensely persuade him to buy a ticket. It was so cutthroat! I was stoked that I managed to record a few minutes of them in action.
The bus finally pulled out of the terminal around 9:15 p.m. I unwittingly chose a different bus company for this return trip, featuring an older coach with a big ol' honkin' TV monitor from the '80s. No movie played, the driver left the bright overhead lights on for over an hour, and the music played all night. How do they expect anyone to fall asleep?
The road between Chiang Mai and Bangkok is a divided highway with two lanes in each direction. Except for the three-foot wide shoulders and occasional blown-out patches, it's pretty much built to United States standards. Too bad that some sections of the Northbound lanes were closed, with their traffic coned over to our side. That meant occasional bouts of Java-style bus-drivng insanity, including extreme tailgating and treacherously dangerous passing into the path of quickly approaching trucks and swerving back into our lane at the last possible nano-second.