My trip to Thailand was unplanned, I only knew it would begin with a good friend, relaxing on the beach and then, who knows? As I should have known Chiang Mai pulled me back and within a few days of landing in the country I had a ticket North booked. Although I have a spot (Teeraya) in Chiang Mai that I love I thought I’d take a look through the Couchsurfing profiles and see if anything jumped out. Loads of profiles were expats and digital nomads, living in Chiang Mai and offering up their couch or floor for the wandering souls, not so much what I was interested in, but then I came across Peace’s profile. An energetic, enthusiastic local who just so happened to host English camps and was sometimes looking for volunteers, I was interested and so I sent him a message. Within no time he got back to me with a detailed response, including an offer for me to join an upcoming English camp, the only catch it was in Krabi - the pace I was about to leave.
This story starts walking down the streets of Chiang Mai with my new friends from the UK, all of us with a large beer in hand. What I assumed would be a fun last night out in Chiang Mai, a few drinks, new bar, good food and possibly a ladyboy show, turned into a pivotal moment shaping the next few weeks of my travels and possibly more.
When traveling I find that I’m quick to adapt to the different surroundings and crowds that I immerse myself into. I’ve never had a major problem finding comfort in a new situation, no matter how different it may be to what I’m used to. It’s funny, actually the most uncomfortable I found myself in the last year were the two times I was preparing to leave the United States, not sure what laid ahead in my life. Once I found myself abroad though those worries disappeared and I fell back into my Chameleon skin.
Venturing back to Chiang Mai for my third visit within the year, I decided to mix it up a bit and give myself a new challenge. I very happily could have relaxed in town all week visiting different cafe's and restaurants, or re-visited Pai for another tattoo, but I ventured up the hill towards Doi Suthep instead. The purpose of my visit was not to join the hoards of tourists headed in that direction for photos of the famous temple, rather it was to the nearby Meditation center, my new home for a week.
After being forced to withdraw additional Thai Baht in order to pay for my Vietnam visa I had some extra cash on hand and decided to use it to join Amy in her Thai cooking course. I'm actually not the biggest fan of Thai food, shocking I know, but after a while all the curries start to taste the same and pad thai is like one step up from ramen. That being said I knew it'd be a fun last day with Amy before we both went our separate ways and help me learn some things so I can cook for my family and friends back home. Having already done a course in Cambodia I had something to compare this course to but still wasn't sure what to expect. Amy heard great things about Sammy's Organic Farm and cooking school so we signed up for a full day of fun with them.
After spending the better part of the day riding my bike around the city, doing yoga in the park, checking out cute cafe's and sweating for every second of it, Amy and I decided to give the night market one last go. I was forced to draw out more Thai Baht than had planned (thanks Vietnam), so I decided I had some money to burn and goodies to buy. I'm not sure if you've noticed but I'm really good at adapting the stingy backpacker role, on my last few visits to the market my thoughts centered around "I don't need it, have room for it, or won't wear it" but this time I decided to give in.
No trip abroad can go completely without an interesting story; the same is true whether you’re planning to be gone for one week, or one year. Something interesting is bound to happen! Laura definitely had a good story to tell thanks to our eccentric trekking guide, Chet, but clearly Thailand wanted to give her one more memory.
Having one successful day out on the scooter in Chiang Mai we decided to give it another try. After all, Laura only had one day left in the city so we didn’t want to waste it by the pool, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I did some searching the day before and discovered there’s both a cave (Muang On) and hot springs located about an hour away, in the San Kamphaeng district of Chiang Mai. Laura and I had previously considered visiting some caves near Pai so this sounded like an ideal replacement. We were smarter about breakfast this time around and chose to buy some goodies at the local market, much cheaper and faster. Armed with our snacks and obnoxiously big Thai iced coffees we were on our way.
On our second day in Chiang Mai Laura and I decided it was time to get out and do some sightseeing, but not along the normal tourist track, we wanted to take things into our own hands. Laura was brave and trusted me as her driver for her first motorbike experience. We rented a bike from our hostel (mistake since it was 50 baht cheaper down the street) and departed early(ish) for Doi Suthep. The main purpose of trekking up the hill was to see the impressive temple at the top, Wat Phra, one of the most visited sights in Chiang Mai. Songthaews will make the trip to the temple but with Laura's potential motion sickness and my hatred of anything organized we opted to do it on our own, and what a wise decision it was!
Before you get started do yourself a favor and read about my first and second days with these goons
On day three I was up early enough to catch the sun rising over the mountains directly in front of us. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful and peaceful morning and spent it doing yoga and daydreaming about this crazy life I've acquired. Laura was up soon after me and we sat drinking coffee (if you can call 3 in 1 mixes coffee) and talking. Chet came out with his gigantic smile and cheerful “goooooood morning” which was soon followed by another round of eggs, toast and candy spread.” Before leaving for our hike back to civilization we took a small walk through the village to get more of an idea as to what life is like here. Chet explained we should have done more of this the night before, but due to the rain and our tiredness, we didn’t get the chance. I met one man who spoke decent English and upon hearing I was from Milwaukee responded “oh famous basketball – the Bucks!” which of course left me laughing, I'm not sure I'd call them famous.
High on the tourist track for a reason, home of good food (mostly) happy people, rich history and culture. Thailand as many tourist soon learn is just easy. Easy to visit, easy to get around and even easier to stay.