28th September 2012 05:02
Thailand. Specifically Chiang Mai, "Cultural capital".
Almost immediately on arriving in Thailand, it felt more developed and 'westernised'. The roads were smoother, and three lanes wide at some points, allowing for motorway speeds. When we stopped for a break it was at what you'd consider a "proper" petrol garage/service station. There were more glass fronted shops, and big superstores... it was vastly different to the previous countries I'd been to. That's not always a good thing, of course...
Chiang Mai is just nice. It's a pleasant, calming place to be. The quaint little soi's (lanes) host charming daily Thai life, from women hanging out their washing to kids fighting with sticks. I stayed in the old city, which is a 4 square km piece of land surrounded by a moat. The size of it makes it easy to walk around, safe in the knowledge you'll never actually get lost, merely take a slight diversion.
I arrived in Chiang Mai with not the faintest idea about how long I'd be staying there, or even where else in Thailand I'd be heading (besides the obligatory Bangkok). Four days later I still hadn't made any plans. Chiang Mai made me lazy! OK... lazier than usual.
The stupidest thing actually amazed me on my first day here, so much so I just have to mention it briefly. I've become so accustomed to pedestrian crossings meaning precisely bugger all in Southeast Asia, that I nearly collapsed in shock when a car actually stopped to let me cross a road, and I wasn't even at a crossing! I guess that's proof the drivers are nicer in Thailand... or Chiang Mai at least. You really do have to see some of the antics on the roads here in Asia to believe them. The scary thing is, I've been here so long now they actually just seem normal.
Chiang Mai is also apparently home to the world's smallest dog. You may have to enlarge the photo (click it) to actually see it...
Seriously, what's the point of having a dog that tiny?! I'd be paranoid I was going to crush it every time I crashed out on the sofa.
I used Chiang Mai as a place to just relax after Laos. I think maybe I planned too many stops there, travelling to a different part of the country every one or two days can be surprisingly tiring, the buses and minivans really aren't much fun. I do actually miss my motorbike! Even though it tried to kill me... I still really want to get one when I get back to the UK though, I can't help it. I don't think you can really put across how much fun it is, and what a great feeling until you've ridden one and experienced it for yourself. An '06 Yamaha R6 will be on the cards eventually though.... watch this (empty parking) space.
On one of my random walks around the city I happened across Buak Hat park, which was a nice little place to sit and gather one's thoughts. Lots of pigeons, it almost felt like I was in London.
I do like wandering around a park while I'm in a city. It didn't apply so much to Chiang Mai, which was very relaxed anyway - but it can provide a nice respite from the chaos of daily life. A good place to recharge your battery before heading out to do some more exploring.
I had been keeping in touch with Ella, who I'd met briefly in Si Phan Don, Laos. She had already returned to China, but was coming to Bangkok on the 21st September for four days. We wanted to meet up again while she was there, so due to time constraints on my part I planned to head straight down to an island called Koh Tao and get in my precious beach and scuba time before making my way to Bangkok.