Chiang Mai update: Today is already my 6th day in Chiang Mai, a city with roughly 160.000 inhabitants located about 700 km north of Bangkok. I am on a good way to sort all the things out to feel comfortable in this city. The old town is a 1.6km x 1.6km square encircled by ruins of an ancient brick wall and a canal. The traffic around the old town is as bad as in Bangkok – a constant flow of cars which don`t care about zebra crossings. Surprisingly the people drive rather careful which makes sense due to thousands of scooter drivers without helmets and lots of dogs on the streets.
My first guest house was okay but too hot at daytime. The fan was not able to cool down the air in my huge room under the roof. I changed my accommodation after 3 days to a cheap, run down hotel outside of the town but not far from the Night Bazaar and the Tha Pae Gate (one of the four gates on each side of the city). Living as a vegan in Thailand may be possible but I still struggle especially with the breakfast which typically consists of a fruit, an energy bar and sometimes soy milk with oat rolls which I bought overpriced in Singapore. I miss real bread and a proper muesli. When ordering a menu it is annoying to point out every time that I like „no egg, no cheese, no milk“ in my dishes. That takes up to a couple of minutes and requires some skills in body language. My English seems too sophisticated for the Thai people so I step back to basic language and rape the grammar. “I no egg” sounds ridiculous but seems to work. :-p Three of four soy milks available at the 7/11 shops (mini-supermarkets) contain whole (cow) milk powder. Does that make any sense? I will probably import some products from Australia as soon as I have a permanent address.
Chiang Mai is full of tourists but it seems that many young people are attracted to the city compared to Bangkok where fat white guys with a Thai lady walking close by dominate the scenery. Chiang Mai has a red light district, too, and in most of the massage parlours you will be asked if you like some extra services but in general the atmosphere feels less raunchy than Bangkok.
The Sunday Walking Street Market is a blast. The complete east-west main road, some side streets as well as many temple courtyards are full of boosts. The natives sell food, clothes, jewellery, paintings and other hand-made articles. Buskers play traditional music or cover western chart songs, masseurs/masseuses put chairs on the pavement and advertise mainly food massages which are much more popular here than in Europe.
The prices for a massage in Thailand are more than affordable even for locals. The price level of Chiang Mai is in general on a lower level than in Bangkok. A foot massage is about 130-200 Baht, a Thai massage 180-250 Baht and an oil massage 250-300 Baht. (200 Baht = about € 5,50 or AUS $6,90)
I have already made some friends who help me to understand the Thai culture, to learn the language and to organize my daily life. When I ordered a fruit smoothie at a bar and noticed that it was made with cow milk I politely let him know that I prefer it without and the barkeeper was immediately willing to prepare a new one. He told the restaurant owner Souriah about my special demands and she cooked a vegan dish for me. We talked for quite a while and the next day she taught me the numbers from 0 – 99.999 and how to maintain a simple market conversation. Since then I return to that place nearly every day to have a fruit smoothie and a friendly chat. I am very welcome there and I like their company. Yesterday I got into contact with Art, a chinese guy speaking Thai fluently. He helped me to buy a Thai SIM card for my mobile phone and gave me a lift to the Tha Pae Gate on his scooter. Whenever I have the opportunity to make connection with people I go for it. Often easy things like a smile in combination with saying “hello”, “thank you” or “good-bye” in Thai breaks the ice.
I managed to book my first Thai massage lessons online. They will take place on May 2nd to May 6th with the option to schedule further dates with the teacher directly. It makes me happy to recognize that with every change of my location I become more confident and self-assured to organise myself within a short period of time. I dare to book a new accommodation less than 20 hours before I have to leave the old one. In former times I had to make sure everything is sorted out at least two weeks in advance.
This morning I left the New Mitrapap Hotel (stayed there for 3 days) and relocated to an apartment in the south-west of the city. Souriah had shown me that beautiful spot close to her restaurant. It has two rooms, air-conditioning, a bathtub, TV, new flooring, a little balcony and at least internet access via cable (which is terribly unreliable so I have to go to an internet café down the street if I want to upload pictures and watch pages with data intensive content). In spite of the world wide web connectivity trouble I will probably settle down here and rent the apartment for 6000 Baht per month (about Euro 155 / AUS $ 190) plus expenses for water and electricity (around 750 Baht, maybe more with extensive use of the AC). It feels good to have a place (sadly lacking in a kitchen) for myself again although the Wink Hostel in Singapore was great and my Australian share house experience positively exceeded my expectations by far. Hope to write a new post soon again because it is a pleasure for me – in particular traveling single – to share personal impressions with people who appreciate what I do on this blog.
Roma Street Parklands & Mt.Gravatt/Loving Hut: After I had returned home from the Queensland University I had already exposed my skin to more sun on than the whole week before. I doubted to get the same good light conditions again so I just had a stop over at Isaac Street, prevented myself from dehydration and rode on my bike to Roma Street Parklands. This area is truly beautiful as mentioned earlier but this day I was a bit disappointed, not inspired enough or simply stressed by time pressure because I had to be back home again in less than 90 minutes for the surprise trip with my housemates. I walked through the park but the motives to photo shoot did not come to me naturally. I really had to work to find something which might look good on camera. I never noticed before that in the Parklands live a lot of Water Dragons, too. They sit on stones and on the pathway enjoying the reflected heat. The more time went by the more I rushed through the park like a paparazzi on the run, hunting for the exclusive shot which could be done around the next corner or over there or here or maybe behind the hill over there? The sun burnt relentless and motivated me to speed up things. After one hour I cycled home, took a shower and waited with Teagan and James for Daniel who had miscalculated time…once again. 😉 The idea of my housemates was to let me capture the sunset with my camera and with every minute Daniel did not show up the chances became smaller and smaller that we would make it before the sun had gone down. As expected we were going to Mt.Gravatt, a hill in the South of Brisbane with a great view on the city skyline. When we arrived I quickly mounted James’ tripod on a pedestal and tried to find a good camera setting since a good amount of sunlight was still lighting up the horizon. Unfortunately the sky was hazy and even with my circumpolar filter the pictures looked grainy and pale. I was a bit frustrated to have such a great motive but not the abilities to take a pretty picture of it.
When the scene was entirely dark and I had experimented enough (not too successfully how to overcome the difficulties of mistiness we left the top of the hill and dined at the legendary vegan Loving Hut restaurant at the bottom of the hill. During my six months Australia I had heard a lot about that place but had never made it there. The best thing was that I was invited to eat what ever I would like. After a while my housemates handed me an envelope over with a sweet elephant card made in Thailand, created by Italian designers. 😉 It felt like my birthday and Christmas together. It was a touching moment to read the warm words (plus finding a voucher for an ebook) and to realize that these guys had become much more for me than just persons to share a house with. I can honestly say that I regard them as my friends who I miss already although I am flooded every day with new impressions which distract from reflection about the past. When we arrived at home I was switching between being tired and psyched. Hands down this was one of my best days I had for a long time and I`d like to say THANK YOU to James, Daniel and Teagan not only for that particular evening but for the constant support whenever I needed help or advice, for all the funny chats, for spending time with me and first and foremost accepting me with all my flaws. Okay….enough sentiments – I have booked a massage and will proofread this text therefore tomorrow. Good night!