Big Question Marks

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Chiang Mai, Round Two

Ahhh, back to Chiang Mai, big city of the north with heaps of atmosphere, hundreds of ornate Buddhist wats, about a million places to eat, and a kicking night bazaar! We had great fun in Chiang Mai on our last trip, so another visit was a must in this year's itinerary.

Since we really liked the area we stayed in last time, just inside the walls of the old part of Chiang Mai, after the sweaty mountaintop ride up from Chiang Rai we grabbed a sawngthaew (a pick-up truck with a metal roof and two rows of seats in the back, a cheap way to get around in Thailand) and headed to our old street. The last time we were here, many of the recommended guesthouses were full, and we ended up in a yellow 3-storey one that we couldn't remember the name of but quite liked. So, just for fun, we thought we'd check it out again. It was a little bit different-- painted blue, renamed JJ House, and with the downstairs restaurant a bit flashier this time around. The price of a room was still the same (200 B, about $8AUD), and this time it had free wifi... so a few minutes later we found ourselves with the keys to room 301 again, up a few flights of really steep stairs but with a killer balcony outside the room! We felt like huge nerds...

Then, to continue the deja vu silliness, we thought we'd check around the corner for our favourite breakfast restaurant-- aha, still there! [For anyone who's heading to Chiang Mai, make SURE you end up at 'Blue Diamond-The Breakfast Club' on 35/1 Moon Muang Road, Soi 9-- never mind the new age mom clientele; it has the biggest and healthiest breakfasts we've seen in ages, all served in a great little garden!] Adrian described the feeling like "returning to our summer cotttage", which sums it up pretty well. We say our summer cottage, because we're the only ones here.

To quote one of the most annoying phrases they love to use over here, you could say it's "same same but different". This time there's just no one here! First we were the only people staying on the 3rd floor of the guesthouse, and then yesterday we became the only guests left. (We hope they don't cry when we take off today.) We found a great little "bar"-- er, a couple candlelit tables under some frangipani and palm trees-- and had a chat with the owner, who told us about the major drop in tourists since the images of protesters burning a car in Bangkok were splashed all over the international media (during the red shirt/yellow shirt protests in April). We've actually heard that until June 5, Thai consulates are handing out 60-day visas for free to up tourism (and this is all after they changed the overland-crossing visa to 15 days and we flew in to get a 30-day visa, much to our annoyance!).

It's low season anyway, which doesn't help businesses, and perhaps that whole economy problem might play a factor. We've had a reprieve from the heat of the past few weeks: it's poured rain for about 75% of our time here-- so we haven't done too much. It's not so much fun to shop at the night bazaar when you're constantly dodging puddles and slippery sidewalk tiles. So of course yesterday, once we gave up on the weather and bought bus tickets back to Bangkok, we had a beautiful, clear night! Actually, we're happy to announce we've acclimatized-- we met a group of Vancouverites last night and watched them with sympathy as they sweated it out over pizza (one guy had to eat his dinner shirtless he was sweating so much!) as we sat around in t-shirts, and wondered if should have worn long pants for the 'cool' evening.

But between waiting out the rain, we've seen enough of Chiang Mai to know that some things will always be "same same"-- like crazy tuk-tuk drivers (we ended up on a pretty wild ride to the bus station, with our driver whooping and cheering every time we bounced through a puddle or speed bump-- turns out he might have had one or two before the ride), a bountiful ladyboy population, and many questionable old white man/young Thai girl "relationships", which if nothing else, make for excellent people-watching.