Photos for this part of the trip are at http://www.howeird.com/gallery/Thailand_2005/02_MHS.
Monday, November 7
As I said last time, it was a very long bus ride, which started by going through the heart of Chiang Mai. CM is the second largest city in Thailand, and has grown tremendously in the past 15 years. My original plan was to stay overnight there, on the theory I would need a rest after constant traveling for 3 days, but I'd slept well on the train and the size of this place scared me. As you can see from the photos, there is a lot of road work going on, making a major highway even bigger.
The trip through the hills was very scenic, and looked like the green jungle I was used to. The only difference is this time around, Thailand had been hit with the heaviest monsoon season in ages, and it was still raining daily weeks after it should have stopped. Chalk this up to much warmer than usual temperatures causing updrafts and then in turn thunderstorms. Lots of roads had washed out, and we passed many places where they were laying down a complete new layer of asphalt.
I arrived in MHS at about 7:30 pm, walked to the center of town after finding out from the local taxi drivers that it was maybe five blocks away, and was amazed to see signs in Hebrew everywhere, especially on the massage places. I stopped at a store which had Hebrew signs - professionally hand-lettered - and asked what that was all about. They said they got a large number of Israelis there. They said they didn't like the Israelis because they were loud and rude, but business was business. I also asked if they could point me to a reasonable hotel and they pointed across the street to what I thought said "Bayou Chalet" but was actually Baiyoke Chalet. at 700 Baht a night ($17.50) it was a bargain. Nice big room, western commode, Thai style shower (a spray shower head on an extension hose, with no separation between the commode section and the shower section). Air conditioned, but I just used the fan. I wasn't able to figure out how to turn the electricity on in the room, so I went to the desk and asked . Turns out you have to put the room key in a holder by the door, which triggers a sensor and relay. The good news is you know where you left the key. The bad news is when you left the room and took the key, the fridge turned off. So much for storing my insulin there. Two twin beds, big closet, TV, two chairs, night stand, not much light.
Went out in search of dinner and found some Lisu tribe women camped out on the sidewalk selling assorted cloth stuffs, mostly bags & hats.
Dinner was funny. The waiter is a middle-aged gentleman, and he is mostly deaf. His hearing aid is not working well, I can hear the feedback from across the room. The cook and one of her daughters ran interference for me, and I ordered Kai Yat Sai, which is an omelette with ground beef and tomato sauce inside. When the waiter finally understood what I wanted, he shouted to the kitchen "Kai Yat Sai, Rice, first class for the foreigner". The cook's daughter saw me laughing, and said "he doesn't hear so well", but what she meant was he didn't know I spoke Thai and understood what he was saying. The meal was so-so, a little too much ketchup. I asked for iced tea, and was given a can of Nestea. Way too sweet. Got a soda water instead.
Back at the hotel, I re-arranged my pack, set up the chargers and charged up my cell phone and camera batteries. Took my first shower since Thursday night.
Tuesday, November 8
Woke up at 7, did my morning routine, and went downstairs for my complimentary breakfast. Kow Dom Mu (rice soup with pork), a plate of assorted fruit and a glass of very diluted grapefruit juice. All very bland.
I asked at the desk where I could get a tour out to the sunflowers, which were in bloom and a big deal in the area for the Thai tourists. They said they would check around. I went for a walk, looking for the hills tribes market which was on the tourist map posted down the street, and found lots of interesting things (photos 111-126)., but not a hills tribes market. When I got back to the hotel, a travel agent was there waiting for me. She thought I wanted to hire a car and driver, but I was only interested in taking a group tour. The car & driver would only cost 2500 Baht ($62.50) and the travel agent was pretty relentless trying to convince me it was what I wanted to do, but I finally said no thanks, and told her if she could find me a group tour, she knew where to contact me. I went out for a walking tour of the city (photos 127-175) and found the river and its Elephant Head Bridge, a lovely huge park with a temple done in several architectural styles (photos 164-172), and a holy Bo tree (photos 196-198).
On my way back to the hotel, I was hailed by a young man who said he was the driver the travel agent called. Apparently she woke him up, which did not please him. He explained that the sunflower tours were tomorrow, and were boring anyway, meant for the Thai tourists who would drive for two hours, take a photo and drive back. We agreed this was not what I had in mind, and it was better for me to just enjoy the city since I had a flight out booked for tomorrow.
I kept walking around town, found another spot where Lisu women were selling their wares (photo 189), and also found a huge hospital complex with a big statue of the Princess Mother (photo 154) in her Girl Guides uniform. She was a remarkable woman, touring the country every year until she died, supporting schools and hospitals and social work programs. Here is the Bangkok Post's obituary for her from 1996.
Back to the hotel, by this time my Teva sandals were bothering me. Very strange, I had worn them for a month before the trip, and they were doing fine until I got to Thailand. Now they were boring holes in the backs of my ankles. I bought some band aids at a drug store, and applied them at the hotel.
During my wanderings I had stopped in at at least four Internet places, they all used shared DSL and were like being on a dial-up connection. Internet access was about $1 an hour. I also found a cell phone center, where they told me that contrary to what I'd read on Cingular's web site, my phone would not work in Thailand. International access was locked out completely. Not a big deal, I could still get voicemail messages online from my home phone.
My sandals finally got to be so painful that I bought a pair of scissors and chopped off the back supports. That stopped the chafing.
Lunch was at a Thai food stand. Bland and forgettable. On my next walk I found a shop selling the more up-scale hills tribes stuff, where I bought a totally embroidered jacket. Asking price was 1400 Baht ($35), I was only able to talk her down to 1350 ($33.75). Good price by US standards, but kind of expensive for a small city in northern Thailand. Went to the PO and bought some postcard stamps, and a box to ship the jacket home in. I packed the jacket, my jeans shorts, and some books I did not want to carry around with me, and shipped them home surface mail. (photo 176) It cost $25 in postage!
Dinner was at a fancy place called the Fern Garden. Very nice teak wood, set well back from the street, quiet, dimly lit, lots of foreigners. I was brave and ordered the local curry, and a plate of pat si hiu nua (rice noodles cooked in soy sauce with beef) just in case. Good thing, because the local curry was awful. It was more like soup than curry, and the meat was all bone and gristle. Lots of spinach and nice mushrooms. Dessert was a banana shake, which was excellent.
Back to the hotel, took a nap, woke up at midnight and hit the hotel bar which had live music. The band was pretty good, and I stayed till they closed at 1 am. Went across the street to a food stand and had a bowl of Sen (thin noodles) and meatballs. Went to the 7-11 down the block and got postcards, and chatted with some of the locals.
Wednesday, November 9
Breakfast at the hotel, walked past the bus station to a part of town I had not yet explored, and stopped to watch a procession down main street. It looked like a young man was being made a monk, and his family and friends were making a big deal of it, complete with floats displaying the stuff they were donating to the temple (photos 203-214).
Back to the bus station, where I had seen a taxi the day I arrived, but instead now found only a row of motorcycles - the local taxis. The motorcycle driver wears an orange vest with a company name and number, and for a small fee he'll take you on the back. I'm afraid of riding motorcycles, and it was monsooning pretty hard, so I thought I would wait it out. It was only noon, and I had a couple of hours to get to the airport.
A monk sat next to me, and asked in Thai if I knew when the next bus left for Chiang Mai was. Turns out he had missed it by about 5 minutes, and so was stuck in town until he could bum a ride. I told him I was waiting for a taxi to the airport and he said I should go to the market, and get a cab there. In fact, he said, the airport was not that far, I could probably walk. He offered to walk with me to the market, and I accepted. He found me a cab, and got the cab to only charge me 10 Baht for the ride. As it turned out, the airport was only a few blocks from the market - had I known where it was I could have walked. Oh well.
But I'm glad I took the cab, because it got me there early enough to find out I had been booked on the wrong flight, at 5:30, and they were able to move me to the right one at 3:30.
MHS has a nice new airport, with only one gate: G-1.
The bus ride from Chiang Mai to MHS took 9 hours. The flight back was 35 minutes. But that's another story, for the next installment