I've been feeling contemplative this past week, undoubtedly due to me being sick and writhing around in bed—the perfect sanctuary, aside from a Buddhist temple, for deep thought.
After the sixth day of my second bout of TD (a less explicit way to refer to traveler's diarrhea—sorry for the visual), I resorted to taking the antibiotics I brought with me. It's safe to say that the Dukoral I took before leaving (an oral vaccine having less than 50% effectiveness in preventing TD) has failed me, but I've also been gambling with the general food safety guidelines for traveling abroad; I've been eating raw salads, pre-sliced fruit, and drinking water with ice from some of the food vendors, restaurants, and the gym cooler. Rinsing utensils, cups, and plates with only water also seems to be the common washing practice here. I try not to preoccupy myself with avoiding every little thing, since I feel that it takes away from the experience!
I've also had raging insomnia and a bit of an ant infestation in my hotel room in Chiang Mai. I'm not actually complaining; I'm just considering it all a rite of passage into Asia.
I started to feel better on Wednesday. I hadn't trained since the Thursday before and I felt unfinished with my Muay Thai experience, especially since I had gotten into a solid groove last week. However, budget-wise, I didn't know whether I wanted to spend much more money on training, since I had stayed at the Hill Camp (Doi Modt) an extra two days, which was equal to over a week of training fees at Lanna.
I also realized it was June 4th. I only have so much time left to travel (I return to Canada on July 19th, but time is flying!). I received recommendations from a number of people around me on places to visit in Thailand, and I came up with a rough plan.
Since I'm in northern Thailand, I decided to investigate other places in this region: Pai, first, and then I would head to Mae Hong Son town, located on the Myanmar (Burma) border. Unfortunately, entry as a tourist into Myanmar isn't simply a matter of showing up at the border. You have to apply for the visa beforehand and must have a flight booked for the application process. In hindsight, I wish I had obtained one before I left. I might have also gotten an additional entry for my Thai tourist visa (I have only one). Re-entering Thailand by land from a neighboring country only allows me two weeks of stay (i.e., cancelling the number of days left on my visa).
Lampang and Lamphun are just outside Chiang Mai and can be done in a day trip; I will tie this visit in with Sukhothai, the old capital, and Lopburi, both in central Thailand and well known for their beautiful ruins. I should be able to do all of these, no problem, before the month-long rent of my hotel room expires on June 18th.
At that point, I'm not entirely sure where I'll go, but my visa will expire on July 5th, meaning that I will be heading to Cambodia around July 1st for about four or five days. I will then visit Laos if I'm really ambitious and return to Chiang Mai for a week or so. I'll finish my trip with a few days in Bangkok. I feel that I should see a few islands, but I don't really have a burning desire to party in Koh Phangan, Phuket, or any of the typical hot spots for tourists (which are also expensive). I've been informed of a few lesser known, but equally beautiful, islands that I may try to visit.
To return to my initial statement... I'm in Pai for the night.
After a few days of indecision (one of my talents) with regards to more training versus traveling, I decided to be decisive at 5 am this morning, when I threw some things into a little backpack and caught a songthaew to the bus station, making it in time to purchase a 78 baht ticket for the 7 am bus (the cheapest option, compared to van and minibus). The bus was very old, but I didn't hesitate and sat myself in the seat opposite the driver at the very front, which had the most legroom (later I found out that this spot is unofficially reserved for monks—oops).
I was the only farang on board, but I struck up a conversation with an English-speaking Chinese girl in the seat behind me, who is studying in Malaysia. The distance to Pai is only around 135 km from Chiang Mai, but the journey is about four hours by bus, which includes climbing up a steep, winding hill.
I was warned by several people that the ride is notorious for inducing motion sickness. Luckily, I've never had motion sickness in my life and was fine. One Thai woman wasn't so fortunate and we had to pull over for her to dump out her bag of vomit. I think the van option would've been a bit more brutal because it would have sped the whole way, but this bus had to creep along. Going down the hill on the last leg of the drive was probably even slower, but the bus driver was extremely careful the whole way. Nevertheless, the route was wonderfully scenic and I loved seeing all the cute little spirit houses speckled on the roadside throughout the hills!
A spirit house on the Chiang Mai University campus
Animism is a common belief held by the Thai people. Vendors along the streets of Chiang Mai sell flowers and garlands for adornment of these spirit houses (and for altars in temples), which are literally everywhere. These miniature buildings are aesthetically beautiful and intricately constructed, but also have spiritual significance: their purpose is to provide protection and promote prosperity for a dwelling, business, or other establishment, but they can also be placed in nature, simply as homes for spirits.
I've seen pieces of fruit and even probiotic drinks and Fanta opened and ready to serve to the spirits (I suppose the people want their spirits to be healthy?). I have felt compelled to offer pieces of chocolate for the spirits' sweet tooth, but I'm not sure how appropriate this would be.
Typical offerings to the spirits: bananas, lychees, and Fanta
Although I've been hovering around Chiang Mai, I've getting my sickly self around the city. After a few weeks of Muay Thai, I decided to treat myself to an hour-long traditional Thai massage at Nirvana, the parlor where many of the Lanna crowd frequent. The experience was pretty up close and personal: I changed into a loose fitting uniform, the lights were dimmed, and the masseuse used her hands, feet, and elbows to massage my feet and legs first, then my arms, hands, shoulders, back, head, and face, bending my body in a variety of positions. She even rubbed my fingertips and ears (amazing). It was about $6.50 CAD for the best massage I've ever had. Of course I tipped.
I went to the zoo because it's a well-known attraction in Chiang Mai (although I realized how much I don't like zoos upon admission and I didn't stay long). I'm avoiding the animal tourist attractions here, like Tiger Kingdom and the elephant riding tours. However, there is an elephant conservation park in Lampang that I would certainly visit if I decide to visit the town.
I also went up Doi Suthep (the mountain overlooking the city) by songthaew to see Wat Phra That, the most famous temple in Chiang Mai. I'd like to hike the mountain (around 15 km) before I leave, preferably with a buddy for company. Four and seven kilometers beyond the temple is Bhubing Palace and a hill tribe village, respectively. I didn't go to these, but perhaps I will before I leave.
Up the final steps to the temple
Wat Phra That
Jackfruit growing on the temple grounds
My view of the city was a bit obstructed, to say the least.
In other news, I went to another fight at Thapae Stadium this past Sunday. This time, Neung, a 20-year-old from the Lanna gym, fought. He won by a knockout in the first round, maybe 30 seconds in!
Neung from Lanna, before his fight
It's starting to become obvious that we're entering the rainy season in the north. When I first arrived in Chiang Mai, most days would include a brief afternoon downpour (usually accompanied by thunder and lightning) lasting for about a half hour, and the sun and blue sky would immediately follow. Now, they're lasting for longer, and they're pretty torrential. I'm still not complaining.
My goal for this evening is to get a good night's sleep in my sweet little guesthouse with these lovely spirit houses outside:
Seriously, I should be offering my blood and praying to the spirits for sleep, since it's been damn near impossible for me to sleep at night since I arrived in Chiang Mai! I might have to go to the pharmacy in search of sleeping pills when I return.