Very random. If you don’t feel like following me through the trees jumping from limb to limb, catch me next time.
Thai Language: If I say it is different, will you say “duh”?
I know there are many languages where intonation is so important that it changes the entire meaning of words. Thai is one of those.
The intonation is lyrical. A word may go sianwhEEEExiao, or might go sianwhUMPxia. Big difference right? Well the fist means “I am happy in Chiang Mai” and the other means “I just arrived from planet x, take to your leader.”
Thai Money: It is the Baht. Roughly 32.5 of them buys a dollar. They have notes in 20, 50, 100 500 and 1000 denominations. Coins in 10, 5 and 1. 20 Baht will get you across town in a Sung Tawl (sp?). More on that later. Consequently you always want to carry twenties. They are dollar green. It takes a day or two to not freak about spending a 20 greenback. The ten coin is only useful as tips, and half a fare on the Sung Tawl. The other coins you put in the charity boxes at every checkout stand. Everyone does. They are not worth carrying around. But the charity boxes are full of them!
Getting Around Town: It really is not that big of a town, and when you eliminate the areas Farongs have no need to go to, you have reduced Chiang Mai to a few small neighborhoods. These are the neighborhoods with the bookstores, the restaurants and of course the Starbucks, all 7 of the things. The only franchise bigger than Starbucks here is “Sembleven” (7/11). In these neighborhoods, and I think elsewhere in town, you are never out of site of a 7/11.
To get around in town you can walk. But seriously folks. I take Sung Tawl’s all the time. For those of you in Bocas, it is exactly like the Bocas PD Paddy Wagon. Two benches face each other in a covered back of a pickup truck. You stand on the curb (if there IS a curb) and wave a green 20 in front of the driver like a red cape. He will pull over, you tell him where you want to go (better pronounce it right or you might be telling HIM to go somewhere). If there is no one else in back, no problem, he sets off. If he has customers already he might be going in a different direction and he will tell you no. Thats cool, one comes along every fifteen seconds. You give them a landmark, like Tha Pea gate. He drops you conveniently close and you walk from there.
The other common way to get around is the TookTook. A three wheeler with a bench on the back. Again, covered from rain and sun. These guys charge more but take you right to where you are going, like back to my hotel. They are more fun to ride in than the Sung Tawl, like a C ticket at Disneyland instead of a B ticket. (If you get that you are old)
The locals get around mostly on scooters. Small Hondas. Everyone over 12 seems to have one. I think they get them when they get their first cell phone. The scooters are designed to be two seaters, they often carry three. Sometimes you will see Papa Thai, Mama Thai, two baby Thais and a chicken all on one. Thanks to Buhda, they use mufflers, so the streets are quiet. But that also means you really must be careful before you step out onto the street. Two things to get your mind wrapped around is that first, pedestrians have no right-of-way, and secondly, Thais drive on the wrong side of the road. That second one still bugs me. It would take a long time riding around in tooktooks before I drove here, or I know I would cause a head-on. Meanwhile, I still remember to look both ways, but the other way first.
Tourists and Expats: Tourism here is way down. The expats all talk about it and say this is as low as they have seen it in however many years they have lived here. Most are quick to blame the recent incidents of the oppressed taking it to the streets. No, that is the way yours truly puts it. They will call it political unrest. or “that shit that went down in Bangkok” .
In comparison, I hear from my friends in Bocas that tourism is really low there this year as well. The last political unrest in Bocas was when the mayor closed the bars for easter.
Also, I do not want to think of myself as “One of the few, the brave, the stupid”. So I will just assume that traveler types have already gone everywhere they want to go. That is the most positive thought I can have about it. I think the Buhdism is getting to me. Smiling in the land of smiles is easy to do.
Anyway, back to the last limb…tourism. I chose to be here now, (Oh Oh, now the buhdism is slipping into quotes from Baba Ram Dass) and am lucky enough to be here. Restaurants are not crowded, tourist traps like the Tiger Kingdom are quiet and you get more personal attention. It is a great time to be here now.
Expats seem to have it awfully good here. One of them quoted “some magazine” that rated Chiang Mai the second best city in the world to retire in. Be here now, but be here for the rest of my life? Hmmm. I have been here three weeks and felt a breeze maybe three times. After Bocas and the Arabian Gulf, I have grown used to air that is moving. Not air just hanging there, heavy with the threat of rain, but no rain. The temps range from 80 to 90 mostly. The sun here enters the moist atmosphere and sort of boils it. I guess that is called humidity. But really, you have read this far so I wouldn’t say something lame like “it is humid”.
Beyond the weather…little or no crime. Or so I hear. Most people here are too busy trying to smile at you to steal from you.
Traffic is not bad. Mostly because of all the scooters and people movers. Also, people walk here, they walk a lot. The town is laid out in your classic E-W/ N-S grid with mostly straight streets. Traffic flows pretty well, albeit in the wrong direction.
Food. Name what you want. Mexican, Southern, great burgers, Indian, Japanese, French, Italian and oh yeah, Thai. You can get off the Sung Tawl in one of two neighborhoods and be close to any type of restaurant. However, most of them are members of Meals on Wheels. This is not for shut-ins, anyone can have an Italian meal (no not a Pizza, a meal) delivered to their hotel or home. They charge 50 baht to bring it. That is $1.50. Kick back and order some fettucine. I think I have it best. Right across the street is a comfortable garden restaurant owned and run by a guy who was a pastry chef in New Orleans, and a chef/butler to a rich guy in Denver. The man can cook.
Water. Potable. Other water? Well there is a river and a moat. Yeah, a mote. This was a walled fortress for something 8 thousand years, well quite a while anyway. (I wonder what tourism was like then!) Some of the wall still exists and some has been rebuilt. But no beach. You can visit waterfalls with pools, I have not done it yet, but long-time expats say there are nice spots.
This will be the last post of the week. I am in a Thai cooking class! I’m in class all day and so full of glass noodles afterwards that I just nap. I’ll write more at the end!
Thanks for reading. Comments?