Dateline: Chiang Mai and Doi Pui Thailand-
My body still hasn’t quite figured out what time it is. I fell asleep exhausted last night around midnight local time and then boom wide awake at 4:30 AM. I’m seeing what two Singha beers with dinner and a double dose of melatonin do tonight after I finish writing this up. As it’s the tropics, there was no lingering dawn or anything, just sudden light around 6:30 AM so there wan’t much point in doing anything until then. Temperate climes are much more conducive to early morning site seeing. I arrived in Rome once around 2 am and the sky started to lighten around 4:30. I went out of the train station, where I had tried unsuccessfully to catnap on a marble floor and walked down to the forum. At that hour, there was no one else around and I had the forum and the Colosseum to myself as the birds woke up and shouted their greetings to the new day. It was magical.
Anyway, I had some breakfast – a blend of cultures with curried fried pork, dragon fruit and a croissant with orange marmalade, and then started to get my bearings. My hotel is right on the edge of the old city. The old city was surrounded, in ages past by a wall (pieces of which remain) and a large moat. Most of the moat has been filled in for modern transportation needs but there is still a central canal in the middle of the wide road. I’m on the west side of the old city on the ring road. It’s heavily trafficked but my room is towards the back and quite peaceful. I poked up and down some of the side streets for an hour until it was time to meet my tour guide.
I ended up having a private tour as it seems to be off season and the tourist crowd is light. Nini, my English speaking guide (whose English, while not fabulous, is far better than my Thai) loaded me up in the van and we headed up the mountain road outside of town to Doi Pui and Doi Suthep National Park. The highway was, at first quite good, if windy, then we got to the point where we had to leave the van for the open air truck and ended up bouncing along a little snake of a highway very reminiscent of the Hana Road on Maui. It felt like it had last been paved in the reign of Rama IV but we eventually made it in one piece to a Hmong village inside the National Park. The Hmong are a Laotian hill tribal people (I took care of a lot of them during my time in Sacramento – it was one of the places a lot of them settled when they were allowed to emigrate to the US in the 70s and 80s for assisting during the Vietnam conflict) whose community predates the National Park so they are still allowed to live there and sell their handcrafts to the tourists. I must confess I bought a pillow sham.
Then off to the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple on the top of the mountain, reachable by three hundred some stairs. I took the cable car. Gorgeous design, architecture and gilding everywhere you look. I was taught some of the intricacies of religious observance in the temples and Nini introduced me to a nice young monk who chatted a bit about how he came to choose Buddhist monastic life. After all that, back down the mountain and into the city itself for more temples. (There were four and they’ve all started to run together but they were all lovely) and some time in the market where I declined to eat either the insect larva or some sort of unidentifiable fish that looked like it had been sitting out for a week.
Chiang Mai sits in the Ping river valley hemmed in by steep mountains (the climb up to Doi Suthep was something over three thousand feet in less than ten miles). The old city, as I said, is surrounded by a wall/canal system and the rest of the city sprawls out from there. The old city reminds me very much of the working towns in Mexico. The same sort of small shops sitting cheek by jowl with business offices, small hotels, residences and the occasional centuries old cultural site. Outside of the historic area, the city appears prosperous. It seems to be the Birmingham of Thailand as every time I turned around , there was another hospital or medical facility.
After many hours of touring, I returned to the hotel, took a dip in the pool (which was much too cold) and booked a massage appointment with their spa services to get the last of the kinks of the long flight out. I don’t usually do massage but when in Rome… Then off to dinner and a look at the night bazaar (more small shops selling cheap whatevers) before coming in to crash.
The night bazaar reminded me of the International Market in Honolulu and of shopping in Mazatlan. Steve and I spent a lot of vacations in both Hawaii and Mexico (he loved the beach – Tommy did not as his skin would burn and peel after about five minutes of sun exposure) so poking through market stalls always reminds me of him. On one cruise we did, we got smart and made friends with the bar and entertainment staff and hung out with them in port. The bartenders were mainly young Brits and we all went shopping together at the department store in downtown Mazatlan before ending up at Senor Frogs for too many margaritas. I bought a couple of shirts that day that I still have and which I wear occasionally, twenty some years later. A lot of the oldest things in my wardrobe are resort wear. I guess you don’t wear them often enough to wear them out and it’s not like beach wear goes out of style. Perhaps I’ll add to the collection when I get to Phuket and have some linen schmattas that I’ll look at fondly and remember this trip when I am in my eighties.
Tomorrow is all about elephants. After all, they’ve got elephants and if you ain’t got elephants, you can never ever carry it off…