I arrived in Chiang Mai this morning, after being awoken by one of the assistants on the train offering me breakfast. The ‘sandwich’ I’d ordered the night before was tightly wrapped in cling film. On the plate was the bread, the eggs, the ham and the sausage (with a side salad) and if I wanted to eat it as a sandwich, I had to make it up myself. I decided to just eat it in bits as the effort of turning it into a sandwich as the train rumbled along the tracks was too strenuous.
Having arrived at the station, I got in one of the taxis of Chiang Mai. They’re like little trucks. The one I got in had a box on the step at the back with a live chicken in. The driver came round to strap it up before taking off, looked at me and said ‘He no good at boxing.’ Not sure what that meant. I like to think it was a reference to Rocky but I don’t know. I smiled and nodded politely, as though what he had said had been comprehended fully.
Arriving at the hostel I was told my room would be ready at 11am. It was now about 8am. The hostel is called The Box, a name which would have been more apt to the place I resided in during my time in Bangkok. I made use of the free tea and coffee facilities and took a look at the map of the area and some leaflets of points of interest.
One in particular caught my eye. The Mae Ping River Cruise. It looked chilled, which is what I needed. The train journey wasn’t too bad at all from Bangkok. The little cabin was comfortable enough, although I didn’t sleep very well as I was listening to music, playing ‘The Chase’ and looking through the window at as much of the passing land as I could see. During a stop in a station, there was a woman sweeping up in the middle of nowhere. I waved, she didn’t see me, so I lay back down. My thought was ‘I wonder where she lives? What does she do? Is she happy?’ The crowded towns I know and love back home can potentially trap you into a way of life that doesn’t necessarily provide spiritual enlightenment. A more dog-eat-dog world where everything is 100 mph in the name of capitalism. In the space of about 30 seconds, I imagined this lady to have a simple life. I imagined her to be content with her lot, which is little in the material sense and appreciated her efforts of sweeping a derelict spot of land at about 4am, when the rest of the town sleeps. I may be wrong. She may lead a busy and hectic life, one where the broomstick is a welcome distraction and transports her to another world. Realising my mind was going overtime and all these thoughts had been evoked by one visual stimulus, I lay back down and listened to some classic 90’s RnB.
So…..back to the Mae Ping River Cruise. I’d decided, after catching up with some messages and emails, I would head down to the pier and get the 11am boat. The feel of Chiang Mai is very different to Bangkok. A lot more relaxed. The people seem friendlier and more willing to help. Maybe the northerners of Chiang Mai look at their counterparts in Bangkok in a similar fashion to how some in the north of England see our friends in the capital. Always rushing, relatively unhelpful and needing to get somewhere. Who knows? Notice I said ‘some in the north,’ and therefore distancing myself from the statement. I would hate to alienate any potential readers south of Watford Gap. Having said that I do recall my first time in London ‘on business.’ I was trying to find the place I was attending a meeting at and decided to ask a suited man for directions. Before I could even finish the question, the man had already said ‘No sorry!’ and was out of vision. My first experience of London there. I digress.
I got on the boat with about 15 or so other people (it was 16…..I counted) and we headed out of the city and up the river. As we sailed eloquently along the still waters, men fished and children played on the banks. Tranquility and serenity. I sipped on my iced latte and the thought going through my mind was ‘At this very moment…..I am winning at life.’ The word ‘winning’ may suggest I’m in competition with someone or something. I’m not. The thought simply means ‘I am happy.’
The sun kissed my legs, as they rested up on the side of the boat. As we went further along, there would be nothing but trees and embankments for long distances, then randomly one man would sit beneath an umbrella trying to get the catch of the day. My mind wandered from its temporary peaceful state as I tried to recall what day it was. Monday. I thought ‘What would people at home be doing now?’ (Meaning the time I was living…..in reality, most would be in bed given the time difference). I thought again of the Sweeping Lady and again compared life back home to the apparent simplicities I was witnessing here. I digress again.
We eventually arrived at the Farmer’s House. A wooden complex up a steep set of stairs from the river. Within the grounds there were chickens, wild boar, a dog, fish and fruit trees. It was a beautiful setting. Tables and benches were tucked away in tree-house like compartments. We were offered watermelon and pineapple and a choice of drink. I chose ginger. I soon became envious when the Taiwanese boys sitting opposite me were served chicken noodles. I asked if I could have some. Of course I can…100 baht. I know they were from Taiwan because we spoke. Ashamedly my only reference to Taiwan, is again, a Stewart Lee anecdote, where he describes a conversation he has with the film director Ang Lee. I won’t spoil it. Google ‘Stewart Lee, Ang Lee,’ be patient and see what you think. I was mildly embarrassed that this was the only nugget of Taiwanese-related information I had in my armour. One of the boys must have burped at least 4 times…..no hand over the mouth, no apology, didn’t even bat an eyelid. I don’t know whether this is the norm in Taiwan or he was an exception. Cultural differences aside, I tucked into my lunch, which as you can see is appealing on the eye, and I can vouch, on the taste buds also.
I took some pictures of the Farmer’s House and its inhabitants and boarded the boat for the return journey. Check Facebook if you want to see some lovely flowers, sleeping boars, sleeping dogs and loads of water and pretty trees. Forgot to mention whilst on the boat I got talking to a couple who now live in Teeside, but the lady is originally from Spital on the Wirral (in Wirral? The debate rages on). She informed me she used to go to Wirral Grammar School for Girls. Two different countries and I have bumped into two people from Wirral. It’s a small world. Yeah, but I wouldn’t like to wallpaper it. Obligatory shit ‘dad’ joke there.
I headed out for a walk and decided to hire a car. WHAT? I don’t drive in the UK (for fear of annoying Danielle, I can drive, I just don’t have a license…..Well you can’t drive Matty), so I don’t know what I was thinking. Confidence told me that I could tackle the bustling streets of Chiang Mai. I approached the nearest car hire place and was quoted 799 baht for 24 hours. This is about 15 quid. It was automatic. I had to wait about 15 minutes for them to bring the car to the place. It eventually arrived. Maroon and a few years old, I handed over my passport and 799 baht in exchange for the keys. The man who brought it was speaking into his phone in Thai, and showing me the translated message on screen in English. ‘The car looks old, but it is very good,’ read one. ‘Drive carefully,’ instructed the second.
I jumped in, drove around for 20 minutes, eager to explore the city, and headed back to the hostel to make sure I knew the way back. Arriving back at the hostel, I was able to take my bag to the room. I’m in a four bunk room. Two beds are vacant. It’s very clean and very modern. I like it here. I had locked the car and entered the office on the grounds of the hostel. Amy, who runs the place asked how much I had been charged for the car. I told her. She said it was a good price. I tried to unlock it again to get back in…..it wouldn’t open. Amy then explained that it is a very old car. She rang the bloke who didn’t answer. Whilst this was happening, I was discussing my travelling route with Amy. We looked at different options to get into Laos. Eventually I decided to head straight for Hanoi in Vietnam instead of going through Laos. We booked flights. Amy eventually got through to the fella, who said he wouldn’t refund me, but would bring another car. Fair enough. We waited. And waited. And waited.
Amongst the growing frustration, I realised I’d lost a bank card, so had to try to cancel that, whilst simultaneously booking a tour to an elephant sanctuary for tomorrow afternoon. A few phone calls later and a new (well…..) car arrived. This one was black. Notice my severe lack of car knowledge. Limited to colour descriptions only. Card cancelled, elephant sanctuary booked and replacement car to hand, I headed back out of the hostel grounds. Amy had warned me that the black car looked a bit battered and she had taken photos in case they tried to blame me when I returned it. I struggled to reverse it out of the grounds as the automatic gear stick was as stiff as any potential opponent Tyson Fury talks about. Boxing fans will get that. (‘He’s a stiff idiot.’)
Fearing that I was going to ram the vehicle into the wall opposite, I got out, Amy came to help and agreed the gear stick was awful. She drove it back for me, where I asked for a refund from the boss’ wife. I was given it, despite her husband saying it wasn’t possible earlier. Amy and I walked back to the hostel together. She asked what I would do if the boss comes/phones back. I asked her was I in danger. She reassured me I wasn’t. I felt weak. I then played out a scenario in my mind, where I would be coming out of the Rasta Cafe later this evening and would be hooded by men on a scooter, taken to the nearby hills and fed to the gibbons, which are advertised everywhere here. Amy had previously said that the man had sounded crazy when she was talking on the phone, which did nothing to reduce my anxieties. ‘Security is all round the city,’ she told me, so I would be fine. Thanks Amy.
Back at the hostel, I showered and went back to Amy, who was going to direct me to the Rasta Cafe. She has undoubtedly been the most helpful Thai I have encountered thus far. She called them and told me they’re closed due to a national holiday. They are open again tomorrow. OK. New plan. I needed food. I came across a Mexican, which upon entering was more like an American diner. Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Brilliant Disguise’ was on the playlist as well as the Houlie’s classic ‘Big John,’ (which has been affectionately adopted as Neishy’s signature tune along with ‘Human’ by The Killers). Whilst mentioning Houlie’s I hear a few people are following this blog back home. Hello and thank you. I hope you’re enjoying it.
I ordered some nachos and when I picked up the salsa dip, not realising it was more watery than that which I’m used to in England, I proceeded to cover myself in it. Right down my front, down the back of my legs (How?) and on my pumps. I wanted to launch the little tub at the wall. In the words of Alan Partridge, the day ‘had started off well, tailored off towards the middle and the less said about the end, the better.’ Salsa dip cleared and nachos eaten, I then made my way through some chicken enchiladas and left. I stumbled upon a coffee shop, entered and asked directions to the Jazz Bar. The lady happily informed me that it was closed due to the national holiday. OK. I get the picture. Nowhere is open. I asked for a latte. She said take a seat. After a few minutes, she comes back over and says that the coffee machine is off now for the night. Unbelievable. Why serve me then?
I got up and made my way further up the street to a quaint little place called ‘Into The Woods.’ If this place existed back home, I’d be a regular. Wooden decor, indoor trees, forestry painting and a large book case make this place look like a hipster’s dream. I settled in for a latte (their machine was working) and some cake. Realising that few places were open today, I sought out a Thai massage. I managed to find one behind a plush hotel and indulged. Parts of my body were clicking that I didn’t know could click. I then seen a large group of people gathered at the nearby temple (that’s open on national day) and went over. The temple and shrines were lit by brilliant white lights, incense burned and many people lit candles and worshipped Buddha. It was a nice end to the day.
I thought I’d write this up now as I got back reasonably early. Did I mention places were shut tonight? Tomorrow, I shall go to the elephant sanctuary. There’s no riding of elephants which is good. Imagine having me on your back? Also, a man has recently died here whilst riding an elephant. The tour tomorrow shows how they are looked after in their natural habitat, a jungle 90 minutes away. I get to wash the elephant and play with it in the mud. Providing I survive, I will upload pictures next time. The following day, I have a 7 hour journey back to Bangkok to pick up an internal flight to Hanoi, in the north of Vietnam. I might blog during that journey, if I can. Alternatively check out Twitter for random updates.
Until next time…..