I had the strangest feeling walking back to my hotel after playing basketball my last night in Chiang Mai. I felt like I was home. I knew where I was; I knew the street I was walking on, where to go, and how to get there. I knew people, had friends, had a regular pick up basketball game, and had plans for later that night. It reminded me of summer nights in Boston, walking home from the basketball courts in Brookline after a long afternoon of ball, legs tired, completely exhausted, sticky with sweat, feeling great. I was only in Chiang Mai for five days, but I already miss it and what to go back soon. I made some great friends while I was there, had some fun nights out, and of course, ate great food.
My last night playing basketball at the courts in Chiang Mai I officially cemented my name in the history books of Chiang Mai street ball. In previous nights I played good enough, dominated somewhat, but I never really played all out. I was trying to figure out the style of play and get other players on my team involved. I won some games, but never got a real win streak going, and watched the best Thai players (one of whom played for the National team and others who played in a Thai pro or semi-pro league) stack their team, beat me, and run the court. Not tonight. I knew it was my last time playing on these courts for a while and I came on a mission – destroy the competition and beat the top Thai squad.
I was one of the first players on the court this night. After a short, playful game of two on two (which helped me get loose and get a rhythm) we started the five on five games. The best Thai players made their five (probably the five best players besides me who all could play well and would rarely miss open shots), and put me on a team of four of the weakest players on the court. A loveable group of misfits who could hardly dribble a ball (ok, I’m exaggerating a little bit here), but I knew they had heart. I came out swinging. After every defensive rebound I grabbed I sped up the court and took it strong to the hoop. I went up for every offensive rebound. I demanded the ball in the post on every play. The opposing team double and triple teamed me shouting “Felang” (Foreigner in Thai, what they call most white people) on every play, but I was not going to be stopped tonight. We ended up winning the game 15-13 in front of a solid crowd of other players and older adults that had stopped by to watch the game (It was CMU’s graduation that weekend and some parents were hanging out in the bleachers at the court). I went on to win three more games that night and left the courts of Chiang Mai that night the way I had hoped.
I had a conversation with one of the best Thai players (he played for Chiang Mai in a city league) before I left. He asked me (being completely serious), “How come you don’t play in the NBA?” I laughed out loud. He said, “I think you play very well.” I spend the next 10 minutes explaining to him, his girlfriend, and his friend that the players in the NBA were “MUCH MUCH MUCH MUCH MUCH better than me.” I told him that I played division three basketball and that there were two divisions above me, and that only the top players from the top division made the NBA. They were shocked to hear this information. Side note: I had a similar experience tonight in Laung Prabang, Laos, a place where I really never imagined I’d find a pick up game, but some how stumbled upon another great nightly game. I told one of the guys at the court that the Celtics were my favorite NBA team and he thought I was on the Celtics and got very excited. I think people in Asia have a somewhat misunderstanding of how good you have to be and what it takes to make the NBA. At another basketball event I was at, with some of the best college players in China, who were good, but definitely not near NBA or D.1 level, their chaperones (more lack of a better term) were seriously inquiring with my friend who organized the event if their players had a chance to make the nba. Anyways, I digress. I said goodbye to my first basketball friend from the courts in Chiang Mai, T, who told me whenever I am in Chiang Mai I am welcome to play at these courts (T was kind of the OG of the courts).
While interacting with people at the basketball courts that week, I met a fellow American from New Hampshire named B. Through our conversations, we realized we had a mutual friend that he went to college with and I was very close with in high school. B just moved here from Bangkok and is a professional poker player. He makes enough money to live comfortably in Thailand, plays basketball almost every night, travels and parties. I am super jealous of his lifestyle. B and I went out one night in Chiang Mai and had a blast. We went to a club called “Fabric.” The atmosphere inside was electric. There was one main room packed with Thai people dancing, drinking at tables, and a dj playing great techno/house (I don’t know what they call it these days) music. For 300 baht (10 dollars US) you got entrance to the club and they gave you a card worth 300 baht towards drinks at the bar (basically no cover). B, his friend Lee, and I combine our three cards and got a table near the main stage (there was a Thai band playing before the DJ came one), and a bottle of good Vodka. Side note: we were the only people not drinking Johnnie Walker red or black label whiskey. Thai people (and maybe all people in southeast Asia because I’ve seen a lot in Laos) LOVE whiskey. It’s all I’ve seen them drink and it seemed like it was the only thing to drink at the bar. Anyways, back to the club… Let me repeat this, three people got entrance to a great club, a table, and bottle service for 30 BUCKS!!!! See why I love this place? A similar experience in the USA (I’m estimating because I’ve never had the money to do so) would cost north of 500 dollars. Aside from the main room (which was packed with beautiful Thai women), there were 3 or 4 other rooms, each of which were playing a different type of music, and each of which had a different physical set up and vibe. There was also an enormous out door area with a huge bar, tables, fireplaces, large sofa chairs, and palm trees.
In the end Chiang Mai was one of the most fun places I’ve traveled to in my life. Everyone that lives there, Thai or not, is incredibly friendly and generous. The city has a great spirit to it that is incredibly attractive. I want to say thanks to B, T, Q, Baz, Mac, Lee, Som (there not much for long names in Chiang Mai), and everyone else I met in Chiang Mai and made my experience there a great one. I hope to see you all again soon.