My childhood friend, Bryn, is here in Thailand volunteering for a rehab center in a city called Chiang Rai. So, a little homesick and anxious to spend some time in familiar company, I took a bus to see her.
Chiang Rai is in the very north of Thailand, within an hour’s reach of the Golden Triangle (the place where Laos, Burma, Thailand meet). It’s still in the same region of Thailand as I’m living in, so it’s surrounded by farmlands. There are also waterfalls and a large strawberry garden near the city. And plenty of temples, of course.
This being my first venture into a Thai “city” other than Bangkok, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know whether it would be an actual city, crowded and polluted like Bangkok, or closer to the quaint, small town that I’m living in. Reality was somewhere in between. It’s big, but it also has a lot of nice, shady trees and flowerbeds lining the streets. There certainly wasn’t a lot going on– I’ve come to find that Thai “cities” are often more of the same restaurants and family-run mini-stores that are found in smaller towns, but just a larger sprawl of them.
Bryn and I decided to rent bikes for the day. I love how you can ride along the major roads here and no one gives you any hassle for it. That’s one upside of the “mai bpenrai” attitude I was so critical of last post.
We decided to make the trip out to Rong Khun, the “white wat”, one of the major tourist attractions in the city. After being lost for almost the whole day, we finally made it. The place looked like something out of a fairy tale:
I could almost expect to spot some trolls running around, flirtatiously peeking out from behind the bridge posts, pretending like they were trying not to be seen. Sadly, those dreams were dashed.
t took us the whole day to sort out the route/find the place, and by the time we were on our way back into the city, it was already getting dark. For me this was the highlight of the visit– riding into the city barefoot at dusk, and seeing all of the townspeople milling about, choosing their dinner. The city was just beginning to come alive. When we got back to the center of town, we found a huge night market that went on for blocks and blocks. Colorful lanterns lit the sky– it was like something out of a brochure. We got really invested in the shopping– a piece of trendy clothing cost only about 3 dollars! This was a new bottom line price, even for Thailand.
At the market, there were street performers that were taking swigs of gasoline and then spitting it into a fire baton, which caused the whole sky to erupt in fire. It was possibly one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, being mesmerized by fire as I am. But those poor street performers– that must really mess with their health. I’ve taken shots of gasoline (on accident!) before in Brazil, and let me tell you– the next day was not pretty.
Another highlight of the market was the street food. There was some weird stuff there, like fried bugs. Bryn and I tried some crickets fried with basil. I’d have to say they weren’t very good… but they weren’t bad, either. I can’t see why someone would want to eat them as a junkfood, but different strokes for different folks. There were some crazier bugs available, like huge grasshopper looking things and praying mantises. I couldn’t get up the nerve to try those. I don’t think I could stomach a bug that was crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside.
The nightlife was options were: various bars with old dudes hanging out with prostitutes, a reggae bar whose owner was way too aggressive about getting us to come there, and… that’s about it. We were busy trying to decide which was the least of the evils when out of nowhere, a group of Princeton students appeared. It’s a small world. I didn’t know them, but I recognized them. We joined them for some drinks, and a round of Kings with a bartender who had to have been on a couple of different kinds of drugs.
Fast forward through some guitar playing, an evil motorcycle ride, and a lot of whiskey, and that’s the end of the story!