After a 14-hour train ride from Bangkok, my dad and I have settled in Chiang Mai (a city in northern Thailand). Other than the fact that the AC was BLASTING in our train car, I had one of the longest sleeps I’ve had on our trip. Just being in Chiang Mai for a short period of time I could already tell that Chiang Mai was going to be a more enjoyable experience than Bangkok. The streets are less jammed with cars, motorcycles, street vendors, and hookers. You still see that here in Chiang Mai, but it’s much less, much less thrown in your face.
Via a Google search: “basketball in Chiang mai”, I found a great game of pick up b-ball, outdoors, at Chiang Mai University. 20-30 players gather every single night of the week from 6-8 or 9. I still don’t understand how teams are selected or all of the rules they play with, but everyone has been very welcoming and I’ve always found my way onto a team (I’m sure being the tallest person helps) every night. The other players are very excited to see me play. When I get an offensive rebound, throw down a dunk, or make any kind of decent play they cheer wildly. Not only for me though, at no other pick up basketball game have I seen people who are waiting to play, cheer or clap when a player on the court makes a nice play or move. It’s awesome. It’s a lot different than pick up b-ball back home. Some parts I like more, some parts less, but its always fun.
Like all of Thailand I’ve experienced, the food is great. Favorite breakfast meal: Fried rice with a fried egg on top and fresh fruit (watermelon, mangos, bananas, and pineapple). Favorite lunch food still goes to roadside noodle stands. Favorite dinner: “Deep Fried White Snapper”. Essentially a whole snapper filleted a certain way so that when its served you can just pick the meat off the fish, dip it in sauce and enjoy. There is no batter on the fish; it is light, and crunchy. I had this dish at a trendy (aka a lot of young people/CMU students eating there) restaurant/bar called “Neighborhood”. Favorite dessert: “Rotee” with egg and bananas. Basically a crepe filled with a scrambled egg and sliced bananas, folded over, lightly fried, and topped with sugar and chocolate sauce; tastes like the best French toast you’ve ever had. We had been eating mainly in the section of town near our hotel (a very touristy area), but on a taxi ride home from the b-ball courts I noticed a section of town near the university that had a lot of restaurants packed with Thai people (always a good sign).
I think when traveling it’s easy to get comfortable in the area your hotel is, where there are some people traveling like you. The food and people you interact with are good, but there is more out there to discover. Last night my dad and I returned to that area of town and found an outdoor shabu restaurant where people were boiling and grilling their own food. We sat down and realized everything on the menu was in thai and we could hardly communicate with our waiter. Regardless, a Thai man who was also at the restaurant and spoke a little English helped us order. We ended up having a great meal and met some very interesting people. Throughout our travels I’ve found that your most pleasant experiences come without an agenda, when you just go out and explore the place you are in and let the rest come to you.
Just a quick note on some culture things I’ve noticed in Chiang Mai. One, I think the bowl cut is coming back as an acceptable hair style for men in Chiang Mai. I saw a couple of good looking college-aged Thai men with bowl type hair cuts and beautiful Thai women under their arms so I might have a different look to me when I get back. Also, boy bands are very much alive in Chiang Mai (maybe all of Thailand). We have a TV in our hotel and I’ve been able to watch local TV for the first time on my trip. There are a lot of Thai back street boy bands that seem to be pretty popular around here. I don’t know if I could ever get into the music scene in Thailand. I got a ride home from a couple of the guys I play basketball with last night (another example of how friendly and welcoming the people I’ve met are) and the music they were playing was awful. I couldn’t understand a single word, but it just sounded like bad 90s pop music. Maybe Thailand is just a little benhind on certain cultural thing (understandable).
My dad and I had an incredible day touring Chiang Mai yesterday. We traveled with our driver and tour guide “Lucky”, a very sweet and soft-spoken Thai woman. She took us to the most beautiful temple I’ve seen in Thailand. It sits at the top of a hill outside of the city. You have to climb over 300 steps to make it to the top, but once you get there its quite a scene. Not only tourist visit (although a good amount do), but also local Thai people come to worship. I’m not very familiar with Buddhist practices, but the spiritual experience was very powerful. Next we traveled to a “long neck hill tribe village”. This experience was not as pleasant. You basically walk around a tribal village that has been organized pretty conveniently to make it easy for you to see everything as if it was a museum. And that’s what it is essentially, a human zoo. Only tourists visit here, every hut has the some items for sale that the villagers beg you to buy. One foreigner walks around with a bag of soda and candy giving it out to the village kids so their teeth can rot even more. It’s definitely not authentic, and made me very uncomfortable. Regardless, the few villagers I interacted with were very kind. Our last stop was to the “Tiger Kingdom”, a tiger zoo where they let you into the cages with a trainer and allow you to interact and take pictures with the tigers. The trainers say that tigers sleep 16 hours a day which explained some of their lackadaisical behavior, however, there were times when I was suspicious if these tigers were either very well trained or drugged up. They claim that the tigers have been given no drugs, just very well trained and well fed so I guess I’ll have to trust that. Either way I don’t think there is any other place in the world where they will let you snuggle with a 270 lbs beast, an experience I will never forget.
All in all our time in Chiang Mai has been very enjoyable. It’s a laid back place with kind people. There’s great food, basketball every night, and the sun is shining. I’m easy to please. I was invited by a number of the players at the court to play in a citywide tournament on Feb 1st (the day I’m suppose to return to Boston). Maybe I’ll stay a bit longer…I’m not ready for the snow yet.