I am a few days into my stay in Chiang Mai, and I am loving it. Saturday I wandered Chiang Mai with Meena.
There were rows and rows of fresh produce, old women cutting jack fruit or de-scaling fish, and chopping cucumbers into perfect slices in about two seconds. Stalls are filled with glittery shoes and patchwork pants, mostly catering towards the wandering backpacker. (I must admit, I caved and bought a pair of fisherman’s pants yesterday, and they’re awesome! Cheriyan- I think of you 🙂
Meena, I am sure, thought I was a total goof snapping photos of the exotic fruits and vegetables and the street vendors, but I can’t help it. It all looks interesting to me: speckled round cherry tomatoes, steamed meals in banana leaves, dubious meats on a stick…
We walked for about an hour, weaving in between the traffic of people, motorbikes and cars. Considering the number of people in one place, the vibe remains calm. No one shouts or honks, everyone keeps to themselves for the most part, staring at us white foreigners and smiling when we walk y.
With our hunger peaking in the afternoon, Meena and I came upon a cafeteria area inside an indoor market. Stepping down grey, concrete steps we could smell the curries and soups cooking in the lower room. Stations were set up in a square, each cook with their own folding table topped with their dishes. In the middle were picnic tables and chairs, each set to match the stall they were near- different sauces on the table, bean sprouts, fish sauce or napkins. We took a walk around, seeing red curry at one stall, green curry at the next, pad thai, fried chicken. In the end, with went with noodle soup, the specialty of Northern Thailand. Similar to pho, you add chili and fish sauce yourself and it came with a perfectly cooked chicken leg, juicy and falling off the bone. And all for 30 baht- $1.
After refueling we continued to shop and wander, looking at a Sikh temple and a few stores. Finally we made it to Tapae Gate, the entrance to the old city of Chiang Mai. The old city is a square, surrounded by a square moat, built originally to protect against the Burmese who were invading in the 1700s. Inside the walls is a bustling tourist center filled with coffee shops, wats or temples, massage centers, parks, restaurants, and internet cafes. Policemen shuffle people along when it gets too crowded.
Meena and I visited three temples, each adorned with such detailed and ornate gold decorations. Large buddhas fill the inside, sitting before you like they’re on a stage. They’re image is so ominous you feel the urge to pray. Monks wander around while tourists take photos and locals come by to pray. You are required to remove your shoes when entering and although I know little about Buddhism, each temple feels holy. Monks came up to us, asking where we are from, one even requesting a photo with me. Not what I’d expected at all. I’d assumed monks would be silent, ignoring visitors, especially women. Yet another misled assumption of mine.
Late in the evening we returned to one of the temples to watch a service taking place, the community on one side of a large shrine reading and chanting from a prayer book while the head monk sat on the other side, chanting into a microphone as 3 other monks prayed by his side. It was an exciting ceremony to watch.
Later we wandered the night market and headed home.
The following day I biked to Doi Saket, a small town nearby with my housemates Emma and Cyra. I felt like Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love, riding along the rice fields. We spent the afternoon at Wat Doi Saket, atop a hill with around 300 steps (we tried to count and failed), meeting a monk who informed me that he loves Santa Barbara, the Chicago Bulls and Manchester United.
Later we went into Chiang Mai and watched yoga acrobatics (this weird two person yoga) that my roommate Kara was trying out, before we wandered over to the infamous Sunday market. The Sunday market takes over downtown Chiang Mai, filling with street performers, food stands,and most importantly, blocks of Thai massage places. Needless to say, we all received a Thai massage, right there on the side of the road. I have never been pulled and twisted and dug into quite so much. I winced in pain at the beginning but by the end, every bubble of air had popped from my back and neck and I felt wonderful.
I am loving my time here so far. I continue to meet other travelers along the way, and I am getting to know the other Travel to Teach members better every day. It is a great group to live with and I love their shared excitement to learn as much as possible. Sure, the two dutch guys are a bit of a nuisance, but all in all i feel lucky to live with such a great group. Tonight as I rode home from town, standing on the back of the yellow bus with Emma and Kara, looking at a bright yellow full moon, I thought to myself, one day I will be able to tell my kids about this trip. I excited to someday tell my kids about this trip.