Wonderful Chiang Mai
• Shanshui Trends Luohu Hotel
• South Union Hotel Shenzhen
• Sunshine Hotel Shenzhen
• Xiao Mei Sha Hotel
This entry is about my trip to Chiang Mai over Songkran. Sorry, no tales of debauchery, no stories of my love-life going awry, no complaints of being ripped off (although I cannot wait for the day the skytrain to the airport is finished so I don't have to deal with cab drivers). This is simply a tourist's view of Chiang Mai and of Thailand in general. This is my third trip to Thailand – each time I fall in love more and more
After a 2 day flight from the US, I arrive at the new airport, which is huge and requires extensive amounts of walking. I stay overnight, as my flight to Chiang Mai leaves early in the morning. Boarding the plane is fast and efficient, and the stewardesses are beautiful and friendly. After a very short flight (one hour compared to the 20 hours I had just experienced) we land in Chiang Mai. My driver from my hotel (Raming Lodge, on Loi Kroh road) is there to pick me up. We drive into the city and to my hotel.
Just a word about the Raming Lodge – it may be a bit expensive (around 1500 baht / night) but it is very well kept, the rooms are HUGE and well- decorated, and the staff is extra friendly and helpful. It is very close to the moat and old city, and also within walking distance to the night bazaar. There are many bars within a 1 minute walk, and yet my room was very quiet. I would suggest it as a place to stay – if the price doesn't scare you (by the way, the same room ($45 / night) would cost me about $100 in the US).
Ok – I venture out of my hotel around noon and am greeted by the beginnings of Songkran – the precise reason I have travelled to Chiang Mai. First, a few squirts of water from the kids, maybe a little bucket of water poured on my neck and back. No big deal. However, as I approach the moat, things take a turn. It is mayhem. And it's still early. Water is being thrown by buckets, huge water guns are unleashing torrents of water, and it's all a bit crazy. As the day wears on, it becomes all-out warfare – but a friendly war. The only part that turned me off was the ice-cold buckets of water being tossed about. Even though it was 90 degrees, I was still cold. So I took a break by wandering through the market near the Thaprea gate. Crickets, worms, noodles, chicken, squid, fruit – so many interesting foods – and all very cheap. I wander over to the moat and watch the mayhem for a bit. Kids swimming in the moat, people dipping buckets, water being thrown all over the place from the back of trucks. I found that I can't possibly describe the scene adequately – like the rest of Thailand, it's something you have to experience in order to appreciate.
Let me digress for one moment – nothing like this would ever be allowed in the US. First of all, fights would surely break out. Kids would not be allowed in the moats – either by the authorities or by over-protective parents. IF they did swim in the moat, there would be lifeguards, life-jackets, and ropes tethering the young ones to the parents. Each vehicle would have to be registered and the roads would be blocked off. No riding in the back of pickups. Everyone would be allowed one bottle of water, filled up by staff, and charged for the size of the bottle or bucket. Once you threw your water, you'd have to pay to fill it up again. The fun would be confined and well organized.
Back to the fun at hand – I eventually joined in. And yes – it really was a fun time. I have never been so wet. It was nice to be at a bar, drinking a Chang, tossing water on everybody I saw. I will say that the Thais seem to enjoy soaking the Farang. Every time I ventured out around the moat, the Thais seemed to get a gleam in their eyes as they saw me approach. Again, all in good fun – if you enjoy it, they get a kick out of it. When you gasp out loud when a bucket of ice cold water is poured on you, you hear them laughing with delight. When you stop in your tracks as child sizes you up, start to back up and then pretend to walk carefully by them, you see the kids smiling ear to ear as they wait for just the right moment. Wonderful.
I also took time to tour Phra Sing – where the main religious festivities of Songkran are celebrated. It was very peaceful and a joy to watch and observe. I will say that the Thais take their religion seriously.
As night approaches, the water torture continues until darkness sets in. Then the craziness subsides and the nightlife starts (though one could say maybe the craziness never ends). The nightlife of Chiang Mai is very subdued. Very different from Bangkok and Pattaya. Which is good and bad. Good for relaxing and not being pushed to buy a lady drink every minute. Bad because there are fewer women. Most of the bars are very small and employ approximately 5 – 10 women. They are very nice, friendly, and fun to talk to. Beer is very cheap – 40 baht for a small bottle of Chang, 60 – 70 baht for the double size. That's regular price, not happy hour (but every hour is happy hour up here). There are a couple of gogos – I went to one, Spotlight, located along the moat. It was very small, the talent wasn't quite up to Bangkok / Pattaya standards and it was I who offered to buy the ladies a drink. The first few nights were spent in various bars, meeting other tourists and exchanging stories. I eventually ended up taking a lovely young lady back with me my last 2 nights – very sweet, petite, and a lovely lady. I don't think there is anything more sexy than watching a young Thai lady alseep or the view of a Thai lady walking away – long black hair to the middle of her petite back, dark skin….
Anyways, I digress. Aside from the usual nightlife, I did experience other parts of Chiang Mai and the surrounding area. Doi Suthep is the temple on one of the hills over-looking Chiang Mai. After a long, twisty and curvy road, one reaches the top. There is a large bazaar located at the entrance (are the Thais experts at creating bazaars??) where one could buy the usual trinkets, knickknacks, food, etc. Well, I came to see the temple and that's what I did. After climbing about 300 stairs, I come to the temple itself. Everywhere there is a sign, "Farang pay to enter". Not less than 10 signs pointing the Farang to the ticket counter. I forget the entrance fee but it wasn't much. What annoyed me were all the signs – as if I were intruding. I will say that this is a very holy place for the Thais and there were a lot of them. They all rang the bells which will hopefully bring them good luck. I did ring a few of them but realized I may have looked a bit foolish, as it was obvious that I was a tourist. However, there were plenty of Thais with cameras taking pictures as well. I was also blessed by a monk.
I also visited the Elephant Nature reserve – about an hour outside of Chiang Mai. The main goal of this facility is to house elephants who have been abused, starving, or injured. The reserve was founded by a lady named Lek. There are over 30 elephants at the park. They are allowed to roam free during the day. Tourists are allowed to feed certain elephants (others have been so abused that they do not interact well with humans – though the mahouts seem to get along very well with them – of course, they are around them everyday and I'm guessing have some sort of training on how to handle the elephants). We were also allowed to bath the elephants in the river that runs through the grounds. It's a joy to watch elephants lay in the water, play and interact with the mahouts. It's amazing to be that close to these wonderful creatures. It is one trip that I absolutely recommend to anyone visiting Chiang Mai – it really changed my outlook on elephants and the hardships they face.
In a side note, visit Tuskers in Chiang Mai – 10% of the bill goes towards the park. Charles Begley runs the restaurant and he's very friendly – we talked for at least 30 minutes about his life, life in Thailand and the park.
For anyone visiting Thailand, I recommend taking a few days in Chiang Mai – a lovely town.
The only thing I can complain about is the amount of trash on the sides of the roads – you look out and see beautiful country, and then look down and see trash everywhere. Disappointing really.
Aside from that, I don't understand the latest happenings regarding foreigners in Thailand. Tourism is the major employer and money maker for that country. Foreign investment is also (or should be) a major part of the Thai economy. Who is staying in the hotels? Who is eating in the restaurants? Who is taking the tours? Who is drinking in the bars? Who is building nice houses for their Thai teeruk? Certainly not the Thais. It's us – the visitor and expat that have invested a lot of money into the economy. And yet, the Thai government seems to enjoy finding new ways of forcing us out. I have no problem with the nationalistic ideas – I just wish they would ease up on the restrictions. Hopefully someone will be put in power who realizes what an important part foreigners play in the Thai economy.
So, why my love affair with country? Well, to be sure, I'm a short time visitor on vacation, and I can spend all day touring or doing nothing but drinking in the bar with other farang, playing games with the bargirls and learning a bit of Thai language and culture. The Thais enjoy it when you ask about the culture and the ladies who speak English really enjoy good conversation regarding differences in Thailand and the West. But I don't have to deal with the daily nitty-gritty grind of actually living here, so I can't say whether or not this is a place I'd retire to. I'm only 35 and have at least 15 more years to go before I retire. I have heard many positives and negatives about living here – the positives seem to outweigh the negatives. I would find it very difficult to live in any SE Asian country for a length of time, and then move back home. The cultures are that different – and I dare say I enjoy the Thai culture more than the US culture. They are very religious, but in a good way – they don't force their beliefs on anyone. They have pride in their country and aren't pushing politically correct bullshit onto everyone.
My friends and family all wonder what the draw is. I have tried to explain it – it's more than just the ladies of the night. But I will admit – they are a draw. Feminine, not feminist. To me, they are the definition of what a woman should be. They take care of their man, they take care of themselves, they keep their wonderful hair long (oh, how I hate the American mommy bob-cut), and they don't bitch about stupid things (at least not to me) And no, they are not little demure and subservient ladies – they have attitude, charm, and their own opinions. Regardless of one's ideas of the P4P scene, I do believe that a number of the ladies in the bars / gogos do not mind their "jobs". How do I know? I take the time to talk to them, ask them if they enjoy it, ask if they feel used or abused. Most will tell you it's simply a job that pays more than working in the fields or the factories. They don't feel "used" or abused, unless they meet up with idiots who treat them badly. When I'm in the bar, I do observe the ladies who look bored, even with a customer. But for every one of them, there are 2 who are laughing and having a good time. It also pays to ask about their culture, learn a few words, play some games for drinks.
But there is more – It's the culture, cheap food and beer and hotels, the fact that one could never be bored. I've gotten tired of explaining it and now simply tell them that I can't explain it – it's something they have to experience for themselves. I warn them that spending any time in the country will probably change them – not dramatically, but it will change them. It will make them contemplate life, what is important and what is not. It will force them to be thankful for what they have, and yet realize maybe they have too much. I don't think I ever sat in a bar in the US contemplating life and my future – but I do that plenty when I'm in Thailand (and I have met more than a few guys who have said the same). It's also very refreshing to talk to men from around the world who have actually experienced life rather than simply living day to day. Sure, some are a bit off, but they all have stories to tell. I don't get that here – I know everyone, I know their stories, and the topics of conversation revolve around work, sports and who is doing what.
Well, that's it until my next trip – which unfortunately won't be until Jan / Feb of next year.
A nice trip report.