Fortunately for the duration of my stay in Chiang Mai there was space available with my couch surfing host so I never needed to move.
On Friday (Dec. 1st) several of us (the German couch surfer and three of the women from Bangkok) headed to Wat Doi Sutep. My unbelievably gracious couch surfing host had her personal driver take us on the 30 minute drive up the windy hill to the wat above Chiang Mai. Normally the drive is made in the back of a Songtaew and is prone to making people feel ill. The Wat is absolutely beautiful and from it’s perch high on a hill above Chiang Mai you do get a nice view of the city, which is a big part of why it is completely overrun with tourists. This is one of the ways I’ve considered doing a Vippanasa meditation retreat at. The full retreat they suggest is 21 days, but you can go or shorter periods and I’m thinking maybe 3-5 days. Somewhat removed from the crowds there is a meditation center that seems to isolate the meditators from the chaos, but I’m not as sure about doing it here any more. Regardless it was worth the trip up the hill just to see the beauty of this wat.
On Saturday (Dec. 2nd) I spent the bulk of the day catching up on email, photos and blog. It really is nice being somewhere so comfy with free wireless to use to my hearts content. I’m thinking I should plan a day every week or two where I deliberately stay somewhere with free internet just so I can catch up on uploading photos and the blog.
Saturday night I headed out to the night market one last time, this time with Crystal and Myuko (two students studying in Singapore). Near the top of my list was to get one last inexpensive massage before leaving Chiang Mai. At this point I think I’m averaging more than one massage per day for the time I’ve been in Thailand. It’s just to inexpensive to not constantly indulge in. Usually it’s just a 30-60 minute foot massage, which includes legs and usually a few minutes on the shoulders and upper back. That usually runs 50-80 THB per half hour (US$1.50 to US$2.50). At Peak Plaza at the night market I found a wonderful little massage stand where I’ve been several times now, usually getting a 30 minute foot massage followed by 30-60 minutes of body massage. The quality of the massages vary, telling them how firm/soft you want helps, but if you find someone you really like you go back like I have been to this particular place.
After massages the three of us hung out for a drink and a game of Jenga at on of the many bars in peak plaza. Our waitress suggested couple interseting variations on the standard Jenga, which was nice, but she also kept coming over every few minutes to suggest which block we should remove next. Often she’d even start removing the block herself. Then quiet suddenly we were reminded of the unexpected and surreal experience Thailand can throw at you. The music aburptly changed and a half dozen drag queens marched out on to the stage in the middle of the plaza to put on an impressive cabaret show. The Jenga playing continued on for the next hour interspersed with drag show performances. The combination made for one of the most interesting series of photos I’ve ever downloaded from my camera. It went something like this:
If you enlarge the last photo of me standing with the drag queens you’ll notice the Jenga tower just poking it’s head up in the foreground…
Upon returning to the guesthouse our host treated us to another amazing meal. Do take note of the decoration of on the pumpkin bowl they made for the pumpkin soup. Everything I ate here was as delicious as it was beautiful.
With this last wonderful, but bizarre experience, my time in Chiang Mai had come to an end. I’d stayed much longer than planned, mostly because I met such wonderful people although the comfy lodging helped too. The couch surfing Russians had come and gone quickly, traveling on a very fast pace. Olaf, the German, had stayed around even longer than I and all but one of the vacationing students and volunteers had moved on as well. My time here was more entertaining than I’d ever expected, I could happily of stay here much longer and I’m sure interesting new characters would have shown up. However, there is still much more to see in Thailand and the interesting characters, local and farang (Thai for foreigner), are eveywhere.
Leaving Chiang Mai my plan was simple. I was to head around the Mae Hon Son loop, stopping in Pai for a few days as I headed around and tried to find somewhere to visit the hill tribes that weren’t super touristy. I still wavered some on the ethics of visiting the hill tribe villages and I wasn’t really interested in the super popular with backpackers hippie town of Pai, but friends of friends raved about it so it was worth a short look… Like so many things when traveling what one plans and expects often has no bearing on what one does and experiences.