Days 9-16 of a 3-week journey around Thailand, June 20-July 13, 2015
Day 9 Travel Day and Walking Markets
The day began with our first intra-Asia flight from Krabi to Chiang Mai. Being the paranoid early bird that I am, we showed up to the smaller-than-expected Krabi airport way too early (as in, “we were ten minutes early for bag check in” early). I then found that my seat was right next to a baby and Katie’s seat had been moved a few rows back (despite us having paid to choose our own seats – thanks, AirAsia). After the two hour flight, we arrived in Chiang Mai and collected our dead body’s weight worth of luggage.
We checked into the Peace Pool Boutique Hostel, a somewhat last minute change from our original plans because we heard that Chiang Mai was HOT and it was recommended that we stay somewhere with a pool. The owner of our hostel was Mr. Shim, a Korean man who also owned the Korean Culture Center in the same apartment building/hotel complex. Mr. Shim showed us around our new home for the week: our air conditioned twin room, the various entrances and exits to the building, the fitness center in the lobby, and the spa (obviously, the best part). Due to a booking error (that ended up being corrected before we even arrived), Mr. Shim had booked us complimentary massages at the Siam Spa. Not a bad way to correct an overbooking error that didn’t even pan out!
After dropping off our dead bodies suitcases in the room, we set out in search of lunch and a grocery store. We came across The Salsa Kitchen a few blocks away from our building. I applied the age-old words of wisdom “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” and ordered a sangria exactly five minutes after noon. We indulged in the absolute best Mexican food I’ve had in over a year and rolled on toward the grocery store feeling full and satisfied. The grocery store we found was called Top Market and everything and more we needed for the week. There was a salad bar for when we just couldn’t eat any more rice or noodles, fresh sushi and sashimi, and JIF PEANUT BUTTER (I nearly cried tears of joy). But wait, there’s more. After we paid and went to head back to Peace Pool, I got sidetracked by free juice samples and looked up to see Kate staring at me bug-eyed. I was a bit confused, thinking she might be annoyed at me for stopping, but then I looked behind her. DUNKIN. DONUTS. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Chiang Mai had already won me over.
Once we brought our groceries back, we relaxed for a while to shake off the morning of travel. Then we headed back out for the Sunday Walking Markets. Every Sunday, they close down this particular street for the walking markets and it gets crazy. There were so many stalls with a variety of arts, crafts, clothes, souvenirs, food, and just about anything you can think of. Naturally, we bought way more than we probably needed, but everything is so cheap here it’s difficult to resist. Am I really going to need x number of elephant pants and shorts in the middle of winter in Washington DC? No, but they were $3. Case dismissed.
Day 10 Cooking Class
We spent our tenth day in Thailand at a cooking class, hosted by a lovely Thai woman named Oui. We loved our experience so much that I wrote a separate post about how we became Thai Master Chefs. You can also check out Oui’s Facebook page for Trichada Home Cookery; both Kate and I can’t recommend it enough – it’s definitely one of the most fun and unique things we’ve done in Thailand.
Day 11 Massage and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Once we’d slept off our food coma from the cooking class, we got up early for a much needed workout at the fitness center. After our workout, we went to our complimentary massage from the not-actually-a-booking-error. We were treated to an hour-long aromatherapy massage – we both chose the “relaxing” aroma, whatever that was. Throughout the experience, I had flashbacks to our Turkish baths during my first week in Istanbul – starting with a small Thai woman throwing robes at us saying “Take off your clothes!” Besides the Turkish bath ordeal, the only massages I’ve ever had were pre- and post-race massages at Ivy Championships; so needless to say, having a Thai massage therapist sitting on my hamstrings rubbing oil into my back was interesting and occasionally uncomfortable. All in all, though, it was very relaxing, and best of all, free. Slightly overbearing Mr. Shim was there to greet us after our massages and made we were happy with them – we can’t decide whether our wariness of him was that we’re unfriendly Floridians or that he was actually as overbearing as we thought.
Our big afternoon adventure was a trip to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai’s most well known temple perched high on the surrounding hills. We flagged down one of the red trucks (like taxis, but you sit on benches in the back, and they’re generally cheaper) to take us up to the temple. The road up the hill/mountain was about as winding as a road can possibly be, and sitting sideways in the back of a truck just made it even more entertaining – and slightly more nauseating. However, the destination was worth the journey. Wat Doi Suthep was stunning – the main stupa in the temple was a brilliant gold and surrounded by numerous sculptural renditions of Buddha at his different stages of enlightenment. A tradition in the temples that also serves as a way to financially support their upkeep is to purchase a small bell, write something on it, and hang it somewhere in the temple. Kate and I bought our own and wrote “Adventure is worthwhile” and signed our names alongside 2015. So if anyone if ever visiting Wat Doi Suthep, try to find our bell! We met back up with our taxi truck driver and drove back down the mountain. Despite having picked us up, he somehow forgot where in Chiang Mai he was when he picked us up, so we ended up in the center of the city, quite far from where we were actually staying. It was rush hour and we needed to get back to the hostel, so we gave in to grabbing a tuk tuk – they’re notoriously overpriced – and headed back. We hopped out at Top Market to grab dinner and a snack before going home for the evening.
Day 12 Chiang Rai and Golden Triangle
Our day trip to Chiang Mai began bright and early with a 7 am pickup. The first stop was a hot spring, but we could only put our feet in. We couldn’t even keep our feet in for very long because it was SO hot. Closer to the source of the spring, there was a group of older Thai women selling small quail eggs in little baskets attached to some string. We thought it was a bit odd, until we saw some others holding the egg baskets in the hot spring to cook the eggs. That explained the sulfuric egg smell wafting around the area.
The next stop – and definitely the best of the day – was Wat Rong Khun, the White Temple. Most Buddhist temples are bright, busy, and colorful; however the White Temple lived up to its name. It was stark white with little mirror fragments decorating the fringes. It was so different from the vibrant temples we’d seen so far but nothing short of stunning. The walk through the temple complex was a narrative in itself. After passing through the entrance, the path was lined by two pools with outstretched arms and gruesome faces, symbolizing the depths of Hell (or whatever the Buddhist equivalent is). Then we passed by two fearsome guardian figures and over a bridge to the temple itself. On the interior back wall, there was a mural of earthly desires and concerns, so fresh and modern that it even depicted minions and rocket ships. On the side walls, the mural showed people floating away from those earthly things on clouds toward the front wall, which portrayed various stages of Buddha’s enlightenment, the pinnacle of the mural that even incorporated the live monk meditating into the whole visual scheme. For a temple so staunchly white on the outside, the interior was exploding with color. We exited through a side gate and passed by the “golden toilet block” on our way back to the bus. Yes, you read that correctly. The bathroom building was an ornate golden monstrosity that literally only contained toilets. I still have no clue why.
Next up was a boat trip along the Mekong River at the Golden Triangle, the intersection of the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. We got off on a small island that is technically part of Laos but doesn’t require a visa. There, we learned about the unique creature-infused whiskey made in Laos. There was ginseng whiskey to reverse aging, scorpion whiskey for a long life, gecko whiskey for soft skin, cobra whiskey for power… and tiger penis whiskey for.. ahem.. prowess in the bedroom. We weren’t sure how ethical this whole practice was, so I opted to try the scorpion whiskey and Kate tried the ginseng. I think we’ll both be sticking to good ol’ American stuff. After boating back across to Thailand, it was finally time for lunch.
After we’d reenergized at lunch, we went to the overland border crossing between Thailand and Laos, which was pretty much a glorified souvenir stop (as many stops on Thai tours tend to be, we’re realizing). Our last stop of the day was the Long Neck Karen hill tribes, the culture in which women wear heavy bronze rings around their necks from a very young age, stacking them with the passing years so that eventually their shoulders sink, resulting in an extended neck. We watched them at their weaving stations, admiring their work and wondering what it would be like to live with such restricted range of motion in our necks. It’s a bit conflicting to witness their culture as a tourist – would the practice continue if it didn’t bring hundreds of tourists each year? But then, how would the community be affected if the tourists stopped coming? It’s an odd balance to consider, especially when you see five and six year old girls with the beginning “necklaces.”
Then we began what seemed like the longest 3.5-hour drive back to Chiang Mai. Drivers here don’t seem to stick to the lines on the road very often, so we were more than pleased to make it back alive and an hour early. We hit up the Salsa Kitchen for quesadillas and turned in.
Day 13 Staycation
I woke up feeling sick – we narrowed it down to either allergies or a reaction to the toxins released during our massage on Day 11. So I went back to bed while Kate went to the fitness center. After an extended sleep and a cup of green tea, I felt a bit better and we ventured out to the train station in a red truck to buy our tickets to Bangkok for Sunday. We booked second class seats in an air conditioned sleeper car. We continued our unproductive mental/physical health day back in the room, catching up on emails and sleep. Later in the afternoon, we had booked a 2.5-hour massage package with Siam since we’d had such a good experience earlier. The package included a body scrub, aromatherapy massage, and a facial, for 1250 baht (about $35 USD), which actually seems expensive by Thai standards, but the whole spa environment was a bit of an upgrade from regular Thai massage parlors. Over the course of 2.5 hours, I learned that I cannot be continuously touched nor made to lie still for 2.5 hours. It’s not my thing, and I’ll be sticking to one-hour massages from here on out, if I ever spring for an outrageously priced one back home. We ended our “staycation” day with pizza and When Harry Met Sally, an ideal evening in my book.
Day 14 Doi Inthanon National Park
Our second tour of the week was to Doi Inthanon National Park, just over an hour outside of the city. On our way to the first stop of the day, the girl who sat next to me couldn’t seem to just fall asleep on her boyfriend and kept bouncing her head off my shoulder (something I was annoyed by until I realized I did the same thing to Katie on our way back that afternoon… oops). We arrived at the first stop, Wachirathan Waterfall, and spent about forty minutes exploring around the falls and along the creek. We jumped back in the bus to the next point, the highest spot in Thailand 2500 meters above sea level. Kate and I had become so used to the extreme heat and humidity that we didn’t consider the possible temperature change, so we (and the rest of our tour group, save for one overly prepared Boy Scout who brought f-ing rain pants) got out to find that it was 8 degrees Celsius (read as: cold) and raining. We came to the King and Queen Stupas just in time for a full on downpour, preventing us from admiring what was supposed to be the highlight of the tour.
The weather blew over a bit during lunch so that we had a nice view of the second waterfall before we visited the White Karen hill tribe, named so for the white robes worn by the women until they exchange them for colored ones upon marriage. We had a look at the rice fields but apparently this year has not seen enough rainfall for adequate rice planting so they had a different crop growing. Then we watched one of the tribe women at work weaving one of the beautiful scarves, a process that takes about three days.
The drive back lasted about an hour and a half and we arrived back early enough to get in a quick workout before grabbing a salad and sashimi at Top Market – it really is worth mentioning that I’ve gotten some of the freshest sashimi I’ve ever had at a grocery store and it cost the equivalent of $4 for the whole box of it. If I don’t come home, you’ll find me in Chiang Mai eating Top Market sashimi.
Day 15 Elephant Nature Park
I had been looking forward to this day since we began planning our Thailand adventure. Visiting Elephant Nature Park was my #1 Must Do, and it did not disappoint. Check out my post on our wonderful experience here.
Note: We did not ride elephants during our time in Thailand. For a sad but eye opening read on the practice, check out this post by Bemused Backpacker, which led us to decide against any experiences involving elephant trekking.
Day 16 Staycation Part 2
We didn’t exactly go out with a bang in Chiang Mai, but at least we went out with a tan. Rather than a hectic day of packing and trying to fit in another activity, we packed up our luggage and kicked back by the pool for the afternoon. We made our way to the train station at 3:45 pm for our 5 o’clock train to Bangkok. We were a bit early again, but better safe than sorry with unfamiliar/foreign transportation in my book. Our second-class berths were surprisingly comfy. We both had lower bunks in our own little section of the train car, and luckily, no one had booked the top bunks. Before hunkering down, we hit up the dining car for dinner – soup, curry, and sweet and sour chicken – and watched the changing light as the sun sank below the hills. After dinner, we went back to our car and settled in for a night of Modern Family (for Kate) and writing (for me). Next stop: Bangkok!