While in Ayuthaya and not feeling that excited about it I thought maybe it’d be worth giving couch surfing a try again when I headed for Chiang Mai since it worked so well in Canada. Chiang Mai is a big city, second to Bangkok, and there are dozens of couch surfers registered there. I only contacted one couch surfer and got a response saying I was welcome. I picked this couch because it’s owner sounded cool, they had hosted several couch surfers before and spoke several languages which is always been something I admire. Little did I know that this would turn into what might be the most posh couch surfing experience ever. My host told me they’d try to be available to meet me at the train station, but if they couldn’t meet them then I could just meet them at a particular restaurant. I thought nothing strange of it and figured it was just because the taxis and tuk-tuks are used to finding restaurants and guesthouses. I assumed my host would then show me from the restaurant to their home and couch. When I arrived at the restaurant I was a bit confused, my host told me the restaurant was expecting me and she’d be along shortly. When I arrived a staff member greeted me and offered to take my bag. Only he started walking my bag towards the guest house attached to the restaurant and put it in a room. I was really confused and tried to explain that I wasn’t stay here, a very nice guesthouse well out of my price range, I was just meeting someone here. My host, who still hadn’t arrived, had told me just to sit down at the restaurant and have whatever I wanted she’d meet me there and take care of the bill. About an hour later things finally started to make sense when my host arrived and explained they owned the restaurant and guesthouse and that I was welcome there for free, both in the guesthouse and the restaurant. My couch wasn’t a couch; it was a gorgeous room in an old teak house. That’s all I can say about it and that might be too much. The host keeps what’s offered a secret until people show up, lest everyone request to stay here expecting more than a couch. The guesthouse hosts lots of paying customers as well, basically just filling up a few of the extra rooms when available with couch surfers. I had only planned to stay a couple days while I searched for a nice guesthouse in Chiang Mai to stay at for a longer period of time. However, after hanging out and talking with my host and learning they had had CS guests stay as long as a month (which was over staying their welcome) I asked if it would be alright to stay a few more days… it turned into a week which I don’t feel bad about since I spent an entire day setting up their wireless internet to cover the entire property.
So I must admit here that as I write this, and try to write in a consistent tense, I’m really in Koh Pangan on January 19th.. lying in a hammock… in a bathing suit… watching the rain fall which is why I’m not out playing in the water… Anyway, my efforts of keeping “current” with the blog are failing as I’m a month behind. Sometimes I scribble down a little just to know what I want to write about if/when I find the time to come back to it, so it’s not like I’m about write a months worth of entries purely from memory, but this is bad… Since I’m really a month behind expect the next couple weeks to be brief as I try to catch up and I apologize if sometimes I switch tense as I write about the past and present it’s hard to keep straight when writing about a month ago and posting as if it was written a month ago…
Anyway back to Novemeber and Chiang Mai…
My first day in Chiang Mai (Nov 26th) I spent at the Sunday Market. The Sunday Market in Chaing Mai is huge and goes from around 10am until 10pm (I’ll check the exact hours some other time, but those are rough). I arrived just as some of the vendors were setting up and stayed until close wondering the through endless stalls of vendors, food sellers and massage stations. Showing up early was interesting because the vendors are all eager to make a sale to their first customer of the day. It’s one of the superstitions that is popular here, if you make a sale to the first customer it is a sign of a lucky day. Although sometimes I wonder if the vendors don’t just say that as a gimmick to imply they are giving you a better deal than they really are. The other odd superstition is that whenever they make a sale they’ll often take the newly received money and touch it to each items remaining to be sold. I assume transferring the luck from this new money into those items and being post sale it’s certainly something they believe not just a gimmick. My goal for the market was to pick up lots of wonderful things for my beloved back home. With the holidays coming up I figured this would be a good time to buy a bunch of stuff and ship it all home in one big batch. Buying stuff here and carrying it home with you is very cost effective, as I learned shipping it home isn’t so much so. Anyway, I spent the day shopping for Elena and found all sorts of wonderful things I’m sure she’ll love, if and when it ever actually arrives. I won’t detail what I sent here since I don’t want ot ruin the surprise of what she’s getting… I’m quite confident she’ll like it all though 🙂 As a side note since I’m actually writing this now on January 22nd, the things I sent hoping they’d arrive by Christmas still haven’t arrived.
On Monday (Nov. 27th) I spent the day relaxing at the guest house, catching up on photo editing and my blog. It was amazing to have somewhere comfortable with free and fast internet access to relax all day. At some point during the morning I mentioned to my host that the WiFi signal in the rooms was week and they could get a repeater to strength the signal. My host responded that they had one, their partner hadn’t been around to install it yet… so I offered my services and spent the next 4-5 hours installing a WiFi repeater, which would have been simple if it could be installed the way the instructions said it could, with WEP encryption enabled. It turns out after a 2 hours online chat session with Linksys technical support that the documentation it wrong and they it needs to initially be setup with WEP disabled and then one can go about re-activating WEP on the network. Anyway, it was an ordeal, but I’m glad I could help my host out and to my own benefit it meant I now had reliable internet in my room as well as in the restaurant area, in fact everyone in the building now should have reliable in room WiFi. Considering what I was getting from my host it was the least I could do to return the generosity.
I think it was on Monday that my host also let me know the exciting news that another couch surfer would be showing up in a couple days so I might have someone to tour around with. While I really enjoyed my host and the staff I was missing having fellow travlers around to go see sights with. This guesthouse is much more upscale than a typical back packer place so the normal clientele is general much older and not really the sort actively meeting up with random fellow travelers. I did have several interesting chats with other guest in the restaurant which I was making my personal lounge, including a older German couple who were very excited about the concept of couch surfing and eager to host couch surfers back in Germany. Being a couch surfer and have free access to anything I want I was a bit of a special guest to the staff. It was interesting while at first they treated me solely as a respected guest they became more friendly and casual with me as I joked with them as they generously and patiently helped me learn Thai and I helped them improve there English.
On Tuesday (Nov. 28th) I spent the day walking the city and getting my bearings for navigating what is a really pleasant small city. I walked along the river, walked through the day and night markets, walked in and out of the touristy zone. As I wandered I took the time to visit a few wats but my concept of visiting wats is changing. Before I got to Thailand I viewed the wats (temples) as an important sight to see on my travels around Thailand. There are dozens of temples in ever town and typically a few of them are considered “important” and are tourist destinations. Now however I don’t see them as sights to see as destinations. I’m starting to rather see them as they were originally intended, as a nice place to drop in for a rest from the hustle and bustle outside when I happen to be walking by.
On Wednesday (Nov. 29th) my couch surfing host treated me and the morning staff for lunch “modern Thai style” at an MK Restaurant at Airport Plaza (A big shopping mall). MK restaurant is something like dim sum crossed with shabu shabu. You have a pot of boiling water on your table in which you cook dumplings, veggies, meat or whatever. It was good and we at a ton of food, I was doubly happy to have Thai speakers to help order. I was really starting to get spoiled on great food between eating at my host’s restaurant and now being treated to a meal out. I was starting to wonder if I could ever go back to the budget backpacker lifestyle. In the afternoon the other couch surfer showed up and was equally as stunned as I was upon arriving… it was good to know I wasn’t alone in my initial confusion.
On Thursday (Nov. 30th) the other couch surfer and I teamed up to go the Royal Flower Exhibition which is a huge flower show being put on in honor the king’s 60th year of ruling the kingdom of Thailand. It really is impressive how consistently loved the king is here. I spent a lot of time thinking about it. I fundamentally have trouble understanding even the concept of a king, but here over the last 60 years the king has been an amazingly stabilizing force through many coups and changes of government. Looking at the prosperity of Thailand relative to most of it’s neighbors (Cambodia, Laos, Burma and to an extent Vietnam) it has prospered tremendously more so. Further the king really only does good stuff here, donating money to royal projects that help rural communities, taking the noble stand on things, etc… Even if 60 years ago the kings accession to the through was controversial (read the history) there is little question that 60 years later Thailand is a phenomenally better place socially and economically than it’s neighboring countries. The flower show was huge and beautiful and amazing with the expectation of the one thing I expected to be… the lily pad exhibition. Some may remember my love affair with the Victoria Longwood Water Platters at Longwood gardens in Pennsylvania. Well, they have some of the exact same plants here, only they are miserable pathetic things on the bring of shriveling up and dying…. I really expected here in Thailand were lily pads naturally grow in water ponds along the side of the road they’d be even more spectacular… but no. With the expectation the flower show was quite impressive. It was amusing that one of the most popular exhibitions with Thai people was the cacti green house. Walking in I was struck by the warm dry air that contrasted with the cool humid air outside. The exhibits though reminded me of driving between California and Arizona and were about as exciting.
In addition to the couch surfer there were two groups of younger travelers staying at the guest house. Some on a short vacation from studying in Singapore (Crystal and Myuko) and some on a short vacation from volunteer work in Bangkok (Karina, Karena and Gail). Enjoying the good life of luxury couch surfing and good company I asked my host if I could stay a few more days and they were happy to oblige but warned space was filling up and they had a couch surfing couple from Russia arriving the next day as well so if I wanted to stay longer I needed to let them know or there might not be space for me. My host then went on to explain that they owned an empty apartment building and that if need be I could stay there, but they didn’t feel good about that because there wouldn’t be any daily maid service or food, but maybe the staff could bring me some food over on occasion…. yikes my host is really too generous for words… I’m in Chaing Mai heaven.