Chiang Mai 1 of Day 1
I woke up that morning and had a weird feeling. I had to call it serene stupidity because my mind was extremely peaceful where every thought sailed through like the boat in a December lake and I had no recollection of how I ended up here.
After scanning the dull grey walls and empty bunk beds, and soaking in every sound I could hear for two minutes, it slowly got me that I was in Chiang Mai. I flew in there last night and was donkey tired after a day of walking in Bangkok that my mind chose to shut itself completely during sleep that it took time to get back to work.
I had nothing to worry or hurry for. My itinerary included reaching here after a day in Bangkok and nothing else. The next 10 days were complete blank. This capital of erstwhile Lanna kingdom, biggest city in northern Thailand seemed perfect to me. It’s cheap, huddled between mountains, rivers and borders of neighbouring nations and has a thriving backpacker scene which I discovered and became apparent the very same day.
I took my time grooming myself in ‘Chiang Mai Backpack House’ which was cheapest and yet had the best ratings among others right opposite Chiang Mai gate. The old city is a square patch of land with criss-crossing straight roads, surrounded by a moat and few remains of fort walls and gates. Online forums would say all the city has to offer was within those four walls except for the temple on top of a hill nearby. What do I think of it? Well you have to wait for more stories on my part.
One whole day in the old city I told myself and started walking out to the gate. Hungry as I was I took a turn at the first look at what seemed like a market. I walked through rows and rows of vendors selling greens, rice, meat that it felt being back to India. As I ventured a little further I found what I was looking for. Foooood. I checked all different Thai curries and meat delicacies before settling for small place that offered a chance to sit and enjoy the meal. While I was digging myself in to the spicy fish noodle soup, a young lady joined me at the table.
At first glance I would have taken her for a local, but her flashy round ear rings and curly hair with a headband gave that away. I said hi, introduced myself and got to know that she was from Taiwan and is spending a week of her vacation time in Chiang Mai. How cool isn’t it, ‘a week in Chiang Mai’ I thought to myself. We had few words and I got to know that she is heading for Chiang Mai University to check out the campus and planned to do some adventure sports in the forests nearby. Way too soon for me to decide on either I told myself and said goodbye well knowing she would be good company.
I kept walking the same road checking out temples, one after the other. It was a city of Buddhist temples with one everyone 50 m along that road. One was calm and empty with a lake and pigeons on the wooden bridge over it. Another was old and ruined but looked glorious nevertheless. One other had a mass or Sunday gathering going on. With food lined up outside and people mostly old men and women sitting on chairs inside. As the day got warmer and hot it struck me that I needed a sunscreen with all the walking I will be doing every day. It seemed pretty strange for me to apply cream on my face. But what heck, it’s Thailand I told myself for no reason.
It was close to noon when I ended up at Wat Chedi Luang, a majestic 14th temple; part ruined because of earth quake in 16th century and in its glorious days hosted the Emerald Buddha. I walked around other temples surrounding the imposing size of Chedi Luang, checking out temples, architecture and first signs of heavy tourist presence for the day. While I was lost with my own devices and thoughts an old man approached me shouting, “Ice cream, ice cream”. I awkwardly refused him thinking it was over enthusiastic old man selling his ice-creams. He then replied, “Free! Free!” and pushed the ice cream in to my hands.
There were young boys and girls in blue suits and white shirts sitting under a tent and giggling at scene happening in front of them. Embarrassed I walked away and immediately dived in to the tasty vanilla ice-cream, hungry that I was. After scanning around I realized the old man repeating the same exercise mechanically but with a human like enthusiasm; and the girls and boys finding something else to laugh and the whole temple grounds filled with stalls offering free food to everyone.
It was the schools 25th anniversary and I got to eat green papaya salad recipe with a strong touch of tamarind in it, some bread snacks and even more ice-cream all the while listening to a young American couple talk to a monk. After finishing my first free meal in Thailand as I walked back to leave I found a big sign which read, “Monk Chat Programme: Don’t just look, stop by and talk to monks” it said.
And so I did for the next one hour and something even better happened later that evening.