Monday, 19 December 2011

Chiang Mai

In which all the dogs wear jumpers, yet another toilet explodes and we have two Thai Bastards
Starring some students who wanted to interview us and a man who sketches on his iPad.

The climate in Chiang Mai was a bit of a shock after Malaysia – almost no humidity for a start and then it also got quite chilly at night.  So chilly in fact that all the apparently stray dogs were wearing jumpers of various hues and styles.  The less fortunate were attired in t-shirts, strategically knotted to enable them to still garnish lampposts and other interestingly scented pillars.  

Abby had been in Chiang Mai for far too long already but this did mean she had scouted out all the best cafes to have wonderful breakfasts and cakes.  Cakes!  I listed the two temples I wanted to see and we quickly covered these off before stumbling on another one that we liked even better.  Chiang Mai is littered with temples.  Having run out of dictated attractions we popped into the extremely bizarre Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders, where, under the careful tutelage of the proprietor who had worked for the Smithsonian amongst others we were introduced to the fine art of termite sculpturing.  It takes about three years to make a piece covering it in honey and carefully burying it at specially chosen locations.  We also learnt that you are far more likely to win the Thai lottery than catch malaria and spent a happy five minutes looking at a collection of dead mosquitos (the way we prefer them) reading about how wonderful they were and learning possibly a bit too much about the owner's sexual dysfunction and how mosquitos were the cure rather than Tiger penis – a more traditional remedy in this part of the world.
At the second temple we were set upon by a group of students who needed to practice their conversational English for a school project. This involved them interviewing us while recording the whole thing and taking our pictures on their iPhones.   This wasn’t the last time we were surprised by the pervasiveness of new technology in Thailand.  At the nightmarket we discovered a man who was doing sketches on his iPad. You chose how long you wanted to sit for, paid accordingly, and he emailed it to you when he was done. 

The nightmarket (or walking street) is enormous, stretching the length of several streets and full of all sorts of curiosities. We had just set off exploring when an instruction was bellowed over a tannoy to stand still and everyone came to a halt as the national anthem was played.  Later we found The Police, dressed in their uniforms, playing in a corner to rapturous applause.  We had dinner in the main food stall area where you buy a pack of coupons and then wander up and down choosing what you would like to eat and spending your left over tokens on beer. 

Our main activity in Chiang Mai was to go on Thailand’s Number One (!) tourist attraction – Flight of the Gibbons. This was a foresty adventure that consisted entirely of zip lining from one platform to the next through the rainforest.  It was originally set up for naturalists studying the area but the screams of the tourists have now (surely) scared off everything bar a family of gibbons who were strategically living at the rest stop.  The lines vary in length from about 20m to 700m and the speed you can get up to is quite terrifying. The best one involved being clipped on by a loop on your back and literally diving off the platform to fly into a net on the far side. 
On the last night we popped into the little Rasta Styled cocktail bar at the end of our street for two rounds of Thai Bastards (a pleasant citrusy cocktail) before heading home. It’s quite hard to find somewhere nice to have a drink in Chiang Mai as about 98% of the bars are almost empty with the exception of a few greasy looking westerns fondling much younger Thai girls.  Back at our room we were just settling in for the night when, alerted by ominous gurgling, we discovered that the toilet was disgorging raw sewage onto the bathroom floor. I dashed to reception in my pyjamas where my howls of disgust elicited a frosty and unsurprised reaction.  We were thankfully able to change rooms.  

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