Spending the last four days with a chronic chest infection travelling 750 km over land by bus on roads that aren’t really roads before imprisoning myself in a hostel for three days respite has given me plenty of time to reflect on my two months in Chiang Mai.
Despite Thailand being low on my priority list, all interesting opportunities seemed to be there and one in particular brought me to Chiang Mai. Fate dished up the offer and my stomach said yes.
It was a city I’d not really heard anything about until I started reading up and the more I read, the more I loved. Chiang Mai is the Digital Nomad capital of the world and it’s completely carpeted by coffee shops and temples.
I halted my investigations at page one of the Lonely Planet guide because one of my many great philosophies of life is that the best way to discover somewhere new, is to discover it through your own eyes not somebody else’s words.
OH ME OH MAI
After two days of travelling on possibly ninety minutes sleep, and having missed flight in Bangkok because my phone thought I was still on Abu Dhabi time, I’d touched down in Chiang Mai not really computing what was going on.
The one thing that woke me from my jet lagged trance and told me where I was, could be seen strewn across every face I saw: Thailand really is the Land of Smiles.
I spent the next two months smiling too, and discovering Chiang Mai more like somebody who was settling in to be a local rather than a tourist armed with a checklist on a mission to tick everything off within a three-day window.
Nothing was ever rushed or contrived or just for the sake of a “been there, done that” selfie. It was kind of like Slow Sightseeing and every experience could be indulged in for as long as I wanted.
WAI WAI WAI
Chiang Mai is the former capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom of Thailand, meaning new city. It’s a city that’s not forgotten its past but has started to embrace the future and with that comes an interesting combination of East meets West.
At every corner you turn you’re more or less guaranteed to see two things. The first is a stunningly opulent temple with colourful mosaics, a huge double door entranced guarded by golden dragons and gangs of monks in bright orange robes wandering through.
The second is an edgy, artsy coffee shop full of Digital Nomads (#coffeeshoptossers) trying to out-Instagram it’s neighbouring competitor with photo-op-worthy decor, slightly too much macrame wall art, dangling industrial light bulbs and a lab-like approach to brewing.
BYE BYE BYE
Two months in the Northern Capital was perfect. It was enough to get to know the place like a local, enough to fall in love with it and enough to not get bored. And I was lucky enough to be there for two staple features of Thai life that I’d always wanted to witness.
I used to sit in a hot bath when I was little and turn the shower on pretending I was in a tropical rainstorm – and it was just like that. For one hour every day at around four in the afternoon, somebody would turn the shower on in the sky.
The second thing was the magical festival of Loi Krathong – and Yee Peng. Standing on Narawat Bridge for an hour in silence watching lanterns float away into the sky was one of those moments I will never, ever forget.
Then there’s the things I couldn’t predict- the people.
My two adopted sisters and the rest of our Chiang Mai family, The little Thai Grandma who served me up the most incredible dishes of vegetarian god-knows-what for less than 50p. The lady at the fruit market who got overly excited that a farang (foreigner) was coming back to buy tomatoes from her stall over anybody elses and would throw in a token cucumber in my basket to say thank you.
The overly intimate masseuse called Ning who absolutely loved to fondle my nipples and massaged my neck so deeply I could turn left or right for almost a week.
Our other Thai Grandma called Baya who ran the convenience store down the road – a tiny little corrugated iron shack selling all sorts of weird and wonderful things in tiny plastic bags and thousands of bright pink eggs. She’d get overly excited and shout “doggy” whenever I’d walk past with Chloe in the mornings, and whenever we’d pit-stop for snacks she’d run into the back and bring us out a little treat of fried banana in sticky rice, wrapped in bamboo leaf.
The cute little security guard who had no idea how much motivation he gave me in the morning when I’d jog my way through the smog and see his smiling face, his funny little cartoon style running gesture and his high five just as I was nearly the finishing line.
It’s all of the people who Thai-smiled, who said sawadee kaa, khob khun ka’d and wai wai wai’d before I waved bye bye bye to Chiang Mai.