Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chiang Mai

Next day, February 15, Andy gave me the whirlwind tour of the outlying area around Chiang Mai. We drove out of the city through the intense rush hour traffic to a nearby waterfall where we dipped our feet into the chilly water and watched couples picnicking in the shady glades nearby. We had lunch and he took me over to the guest house where he was staying to show me the nice accommodations. After seeing his hotel I decided to take the room over and stay for a couple of days as he was set to go visit a girlfriend in Lampang just south of here.

In the meantime, I'm still over at the Duret House a few blocks away and we have an evening meal ahead. We went to the night market east of the hotel and, as always, ate some great food. I tried the Lad Na, an egg noodle soup. It's fresh greens and other veggies, and long, soft egg noodles in a chicken broth to which I added some hot peppers and nam pla. Nice soup but eating that much hot stuff like that made me drip with sweat. The dry climate is so nice however, that in a few minutes I was comfortable again. A guy sure could get used to this sort of life. It gets fairly hot (85-95 F) at around 2 pm and stays hot until about 5 or 6 pm. After that the temperature drops into the low 80s and is perfect for sitting outdoors drinking the occasional cold beer.

Today (Feb 17) is my second day at Muan Baan and even though Andy has moved on, I'm still here with Albert so I'm not quite on my own yet. Albert moved over here too and we have both of the rooms in front of the guesthouse. We've been having a good old time visiting, catching up on Homer and Thailand stories, and enjoying the night air on my porch.

Albert and I, braving the always chotic traffic, went over to a restuarant near Chiang Mai College for lunch yesterday . I had seen these weird looking fish in the markets in several towns but hadn't een them cooked before. They're called snake-head fish, or pla noh, and the food place we ended up at was offering them deep fried for 30 baht. Albie took this photo of me with my pla noh.

It is hard to describe just how crazy and chotic the driving actually is in this city. Expecially if you're driving a moto of some sort. Because motos can slip between lanes they always move to the front of the lines while waiting for a light. Motos zig-zag here and there as they jockey to be up front ahead of the cars and trucks. The basic rule of the road is !!ME FIRST!! Once you're moving there are people swerving in and out of lanes, passing on the left or right, whichever is more convenient. Then there is always someone who is really in a hurry and passes you going 50 or 60 - motos are faster and more manuverable than cars and some drivers take maximal advantage of that. I find that one needs to be somewhat aggressive in order to maintain your pace and make it through to your destination. But you can't be too aggressive or you'll crash. Stopping fast is tricky as the pavement, after weeks no rain and insane numbers of cars and trucks passing, is quite slippery. It's easy to lock up your rear wheel especially during a hard stop on this smooth slick asphalt. I've used the term chaotic to describe the scene and even though I search for a better word, that one always comes to mind, Chaotic, dangerous, intense, hot and dirty, noisy -- all these terms work as descriptors and all apply when you're driving in Chiang Mai.

Learning to drive in Thailand reminds me of my first weeks in Boston except here it's more intense because people don't obey the laws. You'll frequently see motorbikes or tuk-tuks (small, unbiquitous taxis), coming at you in the wrong lane! And because the sidewalks are often blocked by food vendors, clothing sellers, parked  motorbikes, whatever, you always see pedestrians in the street, yet another obstacle you must somehow avoid. As dangerous as it is it's difficult not to enjoy the crazy energy that pulses on every street. The food vendors offer excellent eats at super low prices. I ate my last two dinners, pad tai gai, on the sidewalk up at the corner of my street. Her kitchen-on-a-cart is partially in the street, blocking traffic of course. But she serves up the best pad tai I ever ate! The meal cost me a little over a dollar, plus, I don't have to drive to get there.

I will have my morning latte, which are quite good in this hotel, and then pack my stuff and head out. My destination for tonight is Phitsanulok, about 5 hours away. Andy gave me the phone number of a woman friend of his who he said will help me with a place to stay. I spoke with her last night and she sounded friendly but there will be the usual barriers when we try to meet. It's like the blind leading the blind. Cell phones help but if you consider the unnatural sounding (to my ear anyway) street names and the fact that I have no map of that city to refer to, well, it could be difficult to find one another. Stay tuned...