Chiang Mai Again - A Mixed Bag

Trip Start Jan 21, 2009
Trip End Mar 20, 2009

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chiang Mai - A Mixed Bag
I stayed in Chiang Mai again, this time, Sunday through Tuesday. I left Chiang Mai a few days sooner than planned. I am on the 2nd Class bus to Sukhothai, writing this entry.

This visit I stayed at the Eurana Boutique Hotel between Soi 6 & 7 off Moo Muang, just a 5-10 minute walk from the Thae Pae gate. In retrospect, for its location and considering that there is no pool, the Sira where Ellen and I stayed, was overpriced. The Eurana was of a similar class but was half the price. This hotel has quiet and lovely garden public spaces, and the included breakfast is good. The pool, is on the second floor and though there are umbrellas, Chiang Mai was just too hot and hazy to even stay out there long.

The Valley in which Chiang Mai is located, is shaped like a teacup. Chiang Mai is in the bottom of the bowl. There is a lot of pollution from traffic; cars and trucks, and vehicles of every kind with small dirty engines; the many tuk tuks and samlaews, spew especially disgusting fumes. the farmers burn the dried crop residue to prepare for planting again, and the coal fired factories to the north in China emit smoke also. All of this smoke, pollution and haze settles in Chiang Mai. They say that the particulates in the air are doubly bad, because of burning trash which includes alot of burning plastic; bags and other things. The weather will not clear up here until the rains begin in April, at Songkran.

I could not walk in the heat of the day. The red taxis and tuk tuks all seem to want to take advantage of the westerners. I paid only 200 Baht for my 5 hour bus ticket to Sukkothai, and yet the red taxi tried to charge me 150 baht for a 30 Baht ride to the bus station this morning, it seemed with the complicity of the Eurana hotel staff. That leaves a bad taste of Chiang Mai and I am pleased to leave.

That said, I had several nice meals with friends. Every meal in Thailand is a healthy feast! My favorite vegetarian restaurant (and health food store) is the Blue Diamond, set in a lovely small garden. Ellen and I enjoyed our meal there and I returned for another, which was equally delicious, quiet and pleasant. You can find the Blue Diamond between Soi 9 and Soi 7 off Moo Muang in the old city. It is not far from Wat Chang Mun. A British couple that I had met in Pai, Lena and Brian Young, wintering in Thailand, took me to a very good Thai Restaurant. I had a delicious Khao Soy, the Burmese style northern Thai "noodle soup" that one rarely finds in Bangkok. The restaurant is called the "Tree Shade House" in English; the Thai translates to "Umbrella Tree House." It is located directly across the street from the fire station (on the map) in the Thai neighborhood roughly behind the Rim Ping Supermarket across the Ping River from the main business part of Chiang Mai city. Lena brought a nice bottle of red wine and cloth napkins along. We should "Ask Jeeves" why Thai people only use tissue (like toilet tissue) for table napkins?:) Every dish that was served here was "aroi mahk mahk."

I am not a shopper and the culture of stalls selling everything everywhere in Thailand usually makes me dizzy. So I was surprised to enjoy the Sunday night walking market in the Old Chiang Mai City. On Sunday nights the old city is transformed into a pedestrian mall. This is a weekly EVENT for the fun loving, always smiling Thai people, and thousands attend. There are more than 20 Wats (temples) in the old city. They are beautifully lit up and open for worship on these Sunday evenings. On the temple grounds there are food stalls set up with every kind of delicious food imaginable available.
You can taste almost anything for 10 to 20 BT, 50 cents US or under. I am limited a little by my vegetarian diet, but I still had many choices. I ate fresh spring rolls, deep fried and cold with salad and peanut sauces, and beautiful little "quiches," eggs steamed with mushroom and onions (or with ham or seafood) poured into carefully folded banana leaves and grilled over an open fire. Fresh orange juice and fruit smoothies are everywhere, as are fancy coffee drinks. The sweets are plentiful and beautiful also. It is a good thing that I walked off my snacking!

There were stages set up at several locations and kids and teens perform. Dressed up and made up they do MTV style shows they have created themselves, karaoke type things. Ellen and I saw this in Bangkok too. Ellen remarked, "oh Thai Elanas," if they had this in the US, Elana would be up there! I watched and laughed and thought to myself, the Thai people really know how to relax and have simple fun!

The buying and selling? Lots of it. There were interesting handicrafts brought in from small villages and then there was stuff and more stuff. Birds and fish and turtles, shoes and clothes and bags, food and herbs and tinctures and salves, card readers and fortune tellers; oh, this was a Thai, not a tourist happening.

I ended the evening with a foot massage in one of the many huge outdoor massage stands set up for the market. (There were hundreds of plastic chairs and massage people who want to make your aching feet and legs feel better.) I had a relaxing 1 hour massage (for like $3.00) with a wonderful view for people watching too.

If you don't want to miss this, be sure to plan to be in Chiang Mai on a Sunday night.
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