So apart from kayaking, how did I fill up my time in Chiang Mai?
Firstly with temples. There are temples a plenty in Chiang Mai. They occur with as much frequency as 7 Elevens (bless you 7 elevens, capitalist import that you are, with your industrial strength air conditioning and cheap, cheap water), and slightly less frequency than massage parlours. Really there are massage parlours everywhere. Apart from one night when I witnessed a stag party of 12 all getting a foot massage together, they never seem that busy, how do they stay in business?
The temples are not merely opportunities to learn about Buddhism, or take pictures. Each one is a tranquil oasis in the midst of the traffic, the city noise, the blistering hot sun. Some are more restful than others providing shaded paths, lily strewn ponds, and stone benches beneath trees so the weary tourist ( and presumably Buddhist followers also) can collapse gratefully for a while like a wilted flower, to sip wanly from bottles of warm water, and let their mind drift as they pursue the worthy pastime of watching dragonflies. Thailand being a tourist mecca, they also had coffee and juice stands. At night time, it is not uncommon for markets to be held in the temple grounds.
The one I liked best (Wat Phra Singh) not only had gardens, but also small green signs hanging from the trees with comforting proverbs such as:
‘Peace is the highest bliss.’
‘Don’t escape when you have a problem because there is always a way to solve it’, and for any folks out there thinking to yourself , “Er Rambling Ro, I think quitting your job and running away to a host of different countries might be a prime example of escape”, I’d like to point out that running way was in fact the solution… just saying.. in case you were thinking that.
‘Poverty with dignity is better than wealth based on shame.’
‘To defeat others is the starting point of hatred and vengeance.’ Actually it says, ‘To defeat others is the staring point of hatred and vengeance’, but that seemed like it was missing a little T shaped something.
And my favourite, a practical piece of advice: Anxiety shortens life.
There was one that really confused me though: ‘Those with good eye are inclined to fall into deep wells.’ Really can’t figure it out. Are you going to fall into a deep well because you’re so busy looking at other stuff you don’t see what’s right in front of you? Do you look too deeply into something so you fall in, and should have just let the matter go instead? Is falling into a deep well a good thing, is having a good eye a bad thing? Is it about having one eye and therefore poor depth perception? I would really appreciate an explanation if you have one.
I also made a day trip to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which after the low key serenity of the other temples came as quite a shock. This particular temple is half way up a mountain, affording panoramic views of Chinag Mai and the surrounding area (my word the airport looks teeny tiny), and is the IT temple of the city. It is covered in gold paint, you need shades to look at it in the dark it’s so sparkly. It is thronged with people. The impressive steps with their tiled snake banisters are also home to many souvenir stands, and I believe there was some form of fortune telling going on in the temple – huge crowd of backpackers, sounds of something being rattled (i ching maybe) followed by one person after another squirming out of the crowd with a piece of paper in their hands announcing to their friends, “Mine says I should practice modesty, and humbleness… wait, does that mean I should wear longer shorts?”
There was a small area of respite from the crowds in a garden filled with fake flowers, and plastic animals… the sort of garden that would belong to that breed of little old lady who would invite you in to sample her home made shortbread and Bakewell tarts, and by the way would you mind crawling into the oven to see if it’s working. But it was quiet, and shady, and had a fake waterfall, and who doesn’t like shortbread?
Back in the city with a few days to spare, I decided to give myself a few treats. I had a body scrub, which I was half excited about because I could feel layers of grime suffocating my skin; and half terrified because LA friends who have experienced the Korean spa body scrub had come back with horror stories of pain. I decided to risk it though, because, a) I was miraculously mosquito bite free, and who knew when that might happen again; b) it was a bargain – $6 for an hour; c) the layers of grime would act as body armour.
I am so glad I did it, and I am tempted to go back into Thailand just so I can get a couple more done. My skin hasn’t felt that soft since I was 15, and it wasn’t remotely painful. Vigorous and intense, yes, but the application was no harder than I would have inflicted upon myself. I will admit it is a bit weird having another woman, who’s not your doctor, getting so up-close and personal with your breasts. However the treatment was delivered in a very medical, no-nonsense, brisk manner, that went a long way to making it okay. Thankfully there was no hint of intimacy, or suggestion of happy ending. The closest meeting of minds I had with the masseuse was when she blatantly made fun of me for having ticklish armpits. Mock me if you want, but try having someone else scrub sugar in your armpits, then you’ll see.
The scrub was followed by super moisturising lotion, and a massage…. I had trouble breathing for the next two days. My experience leads me to believe Thai massage is an aggressive form of massage, intended to heal deep problems, not a namby pamby relaxing massage that sends you to sleep.
Interestingly enough, Chiang Mai is well known for its women’s (why does spell check tell me the apostrophe is before the s. Women is plural, shouldn’t it be after the s. Or is it because the plural doesn’t have an s at the end? Answer please.) reform program at the local prison. All female inmates are taught how to perform massage, and the prison runs a massage parlour open to the public where the women can practice their skills so they will have a trade when they are released. I wish more countries would employ a penal system that focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Sweden seems to have it sussed.
With a bucket load of sight seeing under my belt; a belly full of pad thai, fried bananas, fruit smoothies, and miscellaneous meat on skewers; and a surprising display of will power on my part when it came to resisting the lure of new clothes at all the night markets; I decided the only other thing I needed was a trip to Doctor Fish.
Basically, the idea is this: you sit on a bench with your feet in a tank full of small, toothless fish that like to nibble away at the dead skin on your feet. It’s not a complete pedicure, but it’s a good starting point for one. In the Western world it’s a rare, but trendy, fad. In South Asia, there’s one on every commercial street. Since I do love a bargain, I found a super cheap place in a narrow, dark alley between two buildings, and plunged my tootsies into a tank full of hungry little critters, trying not to think about all the other feet that had been in that water. I laughed hysterically for the first minute, and desperately tried to keep my feet still and not hurt the fish. After that I got used to the sensation, and lost all sense of time. I think half the reason this is so popular in Asia is because you get to put your tired feet into a tank of cool water and do nothing for 20 minutes. That alone is worth the fee. Were my feet beautifully smooth afterwards? No, not immediately, but I did notice a visible improvement a day or two later. To be fair I run around barefoot a lot, those little fish had a big challenge on their gums.
Oh there was just one more thing that I absolutely had to do – watch the Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia. There was simply no denying that New Zealand are the best team in the world. I don’t know what those boys are putting on their Weetabix, but no other team stood a chance against them this year. Such a shame that I ended up watching the game in an Aussie bar.
Time to leave, heading to Cambodia!