Northern Thailand

Trip Start Nov 30, 2004
Trip End Feb 04, 2005

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Flag of Thailand  , Chiang Mai,
Thursday, December 9, 2004

Greetings everybody,

I have arrived at Chiang Mai in the Northern province.  A little background.  Bangkok is in central Thailand near the water.  Due to its elevation, it is hot and humid.  Chiang Mai is up north in the mountainous regions.  It is much cooler and a springboard for trekking, river rafting and similar activities.  Down south you find most of the extreme sports like diving and rock climbing.  That's where Andy is heading eventually.  He's turned out to be a pretty good travel partner.  He's always up for interesting stuff.  We both like the culture here and keep tossing around the idea of moving here.  It just seems too easy to be true.  His thinking is to bring his girlfriend over in three years, teach extreme sports and start a family.  I will likely talk to the American Consulate and a couple of the universities for more ideas before flying back.

So we arrived in Chiang Mai on the actual day of the King's birthday.  The old city is about one square mile of medieval walls surrounded by a moat.  The main streets inside were all blocked off for sidewalk vendors.  Probably a couple thousand booths.  The first day here I just wandered around.  Had my first Thai massage - head and feet.  Definitely recommend it!  Later, I passed by a certain booth - my gut said goes back.  So I did.  There were about eight kids selling hand-made cards.  They were pretty charming even though they didn't speak much English.  So, I bought 25 to send home.  They were pretty thrilled.  After a few minutes they invited me behind the table to talk more.  They wanted me to teach them English.  In return they taught me some Thai.  We ended up talking about everything within their vocabulary.  When Caucasians walked up to the table, they asked me what to say.  The best they knew was, ""  Pretty soon, then pushed me to the front of the table to sell for them.

The next day, Andy wanted to rent motorcycles.  I've only ridden them twice in my life.  So, we went up to Doi Suthep in the mountains.  There's only one rule to driving here - there are no rules.  What makes it safe is that every driver is paying attention all the time.  Driving up the windy roads I had a ditch on the left and oncoming traffic on the right.  I almost ran into both.  Truthfully, I never thought I'd ride a motorcycle in the city.  After two days, I was up to 50 mph.  I tried getting pictures to show what it's all about, but didn't have time to see if they came out or not.

Up in the mountains, we saw a wat, some great viewpoints and some hill tribes.  It was fun to see some of the original cultures.  Unfortunately, many of them have been ruined by tourism.  Trekking into the mountains to visit them is big business here.  Rather than hire a company to take us through the routine, we found a remote Hmong tribe in Doi Pui National Park and hiked there ourselves.  It was a long hike.  About 11 miles round trip and 5 hours total.  Normally, not too bad, but Thailand just finished 2 months of rainy season.  It was exhausting (muddy trail, bleeding from cuts, overheated) but worth it.  What was challenging for us is also what kept all the other tourists away.  We found a tribe that had only one visitor all day.  About 400 people total and they practically ignored us.  Approaching the village, we saw fields of cabbage, bananas and other foods they were harvesting.  We knew we were finally getting close when we heard the roosters crowing.  Inside the village, there were chickens, dogs and pigs running around loose.  Some lived in shacks, some in buildings and some were elevated in the trees.  At the far end, we saw a school.  The kids were at recess.  Most had a ball and were kicking or throwing it around.  Some of the boys were using machetes to chop wooden swords.  Other boys had hatchets and were carving tops to spin with a string.  They were all so happy.  None of the playground fights you'd see back home.  After a bit, they all lined up, had a little ceremony and went home.  It was a great experience.

The next day, I had to treat myself from the hike.  A two-hour full body Thai massage.  It integrates yoga and a little chiropractic to manipulate your body into some pretty vulnerable positions.  At the beginning, it did run through my mind what kind of massage I had signed up for.  But it was legit.  And quite a bit different than any I've had in the past.  Will be going back for more.

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