We were back in Thailand, in the first country that we visited during this trip, 3 or 4 month ago. Only now we realized how developed, when compared to Laos or Cambodia, Thailand is, how well tourism organized is, how many restaurants with westerner food, and supermarkets with imported goods there are. After three weeks in Laos we felt like we came back to civilization, but also to all tourist traps, strange attractions that bring millions of people, that we decided to avoid.
We didn’t go to elephant nature parks, as it was difficult to find a place where these animals are treated well and that won’t ruin our budget as well. I really wanted to spend some time with elephants because they are amazing creatures, but I preferred to do it during some long volunteer project, when I can contribute to some bigger good and not only spend one day pretending I’m helping, but actually just filling the pockets of the owners. And as we didn’t have time to stay in Chiang Mai (due to our visas to Myanmar), I promised myself that one day I would find a proper project and volunteer with wild animals, not necessarily in Thailand.
We also didn’t visit the tiger temple to see how this powerful wild animals are forced to live in small cages and trained, or drugged, to behave well with tourists. Spending a minute with them and posing for a picture is not the same as being with real tigers, as these ones here look more like stuffed toys rather than wild beasts.
We didn’t join an organized tour to the village of Karen minority, famous for long necks with metal rings. I was there a couple of years ago during holidays with my parents and remembered that the village looked more like a colorful market, where for a small tip you can take a photo with a “longneck” woman and buy souvenirs with no warranty that they aren’t imported from China. Anyways, there is a lot of controversy related to this tribe, as they are, allegedly, refugees from Burma, and the visit in their village is supposed to help them. However, I don’t understand why they don’t try to integrate them with Thais, give them normal lives and jobs and not create closed camps, where the only people they see are tourists and not locals.
We did one quite touristy thing, though. When we were still in Koh Samui few months before, we could here everyday the famous soundtrack from “Rocky” with an insolent voice inviting to buy tickets for a Muay Thai fight. Back then we didn’t decide to go for it, as we were concerned that we will see just a fake fight organized for tourists. In Chiang Mai we had a good feeling that we will see a real fight and we were not wrong. Although the place didn’t look exactly how I imagined (few people, big space, too much light and to little alcohol and betting) the fight were really authentic. We had a chance to see different categories, so there were men, teenagers and girls fighting. The most exciting part was a the fight between an American and a Thai girl that ended with the American winning and Thai bleeding. We met a lovely Spanish couple and we did some small bets with them, which intensified the vibe and in the end it was a very nice evening.
Also, as usually, we rented a motorbike and went for a ride through the national park Doi Suthep located on a hill, just above Chiang Mai. On the way we passed some viewpoints and climbed to a Buddhist temple. The road winded nicely up through a forest. We visited a small village of Hmongs, but all we saw were stands selling more or less authentic handcraft of this ethnic minority. We also stopped for lunch in a small restaurant where we ate some fried rice accompanied by roosters and a dog with painted eyebrows.
From Chiang Mai we also did a three day trip to Pai. We left our big backpacks in the hotel and packed only the most important things. After coming back, the last afternoon of our stay in Thailand before going to Myanmar, as a goodbye gift for ourselves we went to eat the last Pad Thai and get a Thai massage. The next day, in the morning, on exactly the 100th day of our trip through southeast Asia, we realized that Thailand wouldn’t let us go so easily. We woke up with all possible symptoms of food poisoning and when after a couple of hours we didn’t see any improvement, we went to the closest hospital. Renato was still not feeling that bad, so the doctor examined only me. However, in the hospital he begun feeling literally shity and in the end ended up taking my pills, as we ate the same food and had the same symptoms. We spent two more days in Chiang Mai, mostly in bed in our not really comfortable room. I will remember the blue color of the walls and the old brown fan for some time when thinking about my not-so-favorite-anymore Pad Thai.
Maybe I should also say something about the city itself. Chiang Mai is a perfect place for a beginner tourists, it’s like a mini Bangkok in a much calmer version. The “old town” is closed, surrounded by brick walls and has everything you need: tranquility, nice bars and restaurants, travel agencies, bike rentals and lots of temples. The whole old part you can just walk and leave the red surrounding walls to see the night market with lots of souvenirs and local food and some party streets, where lonely older man from the west spend their holidays surrounded by (the thies) of young Thais. We went there for a beer and met one Belgian guy who was in Chiang Mai for the 7th time and was flirtingly smiling to one of the “waitresses”.
After two boring days curing our food poisoning, we left Thailand feeling that there are still many things to see, especially in the north and that we will definitely go back there someday.
More pictures from Thailand here.