The waiting game . . .

I arrived back in Chiang Mai in order to arrange my visa for Cambodia. There wasn’t a lot of difference in price between the 3 day (1100THB) and 1 day (1350THB) services so i chose the 1 day, which is actually 2 days due to the time of day i’d made my application.
I’m staying at Somwang Guesthouse (Soi 2, off Moon Muang Road), which is actually a comfortable, clean, relatively quiet (no chickens!) and well-run establishment owned by a polite a friendly Thai couple. My room (with attached cold water shower) is 160THB per night. The guesthouse has an attached restaurant (with prices more reasonable than a lot of restaurants in the surrounding area), laundry, bike hire and visa services, and an endless supply of information about activities and sightseeing in the area. They even have a timetable for the buses to Udon Thani, which i was unable to find anywhere on the internet!
As i’d previously spent 4 or 5 days in Chiang Mai during this trip and as a result, seen and done pretty much all i’d wanted to in the city, i spent my time here leisurely strolling around Chiang Mai’s streets, drinking coffees and fruit shakes and reading my recently purchased book “Catfish and Mandala” by Vietnamese born American writer Andrew X. Pham. It tells the tale of Pham’s solo bike voyage around the pacific rim to Vietnam, and is intertwined with amusing travelogues whilst at the same time relating Pham’s stark and often frightening childhood memories of living in Vietnam and the disturbing tales told to him by his father about the war.
Not content with being entirely lazy though, i did wander into a couple of temples to the north of the city :
  • WAT PHA PAO. During the reign of King Inthawichayanon (1870-1897), a group of Buddhist faithfuls from the Shan states founded a monastry here in a grove (Pa) of Plao trees, locally called ‘Pao’ which gave the monastry its name.
  • WAT CHAI SRI PHUM. Built in 1519 by King Phra Muang Kaeo at the auspicious site ‘Sri Phum’ (prosperity of the land). Prior to the construction of the temple, a fig tree stood in its place, a symbol of good fortune for the city.

A Royal visit

As i walked through the night market in search of some cheap food on my last night in Chiang Mai, I was aware that something a little bit special was happening in the vicinity : there were policemen at every corner and the market seemed unusually crowded, with many people simply standing around as if they were waiting for something – or someone.

I fought my way through the hoards of standing figures opposite the Royal Princess Hotel, took a seat in the restaurant situated behind them and ordered my fried vegetables in red curry sauce and coconut milk (with rice only 30THB). When the waiter approached, i quiried who (i’d made the assumption there was to be an appearance by a celebrity of some degree, i heard someone in the crowd shout, “is it David Beckham?”) the crowds of people were waiting for. He answered “our Queen”, whilst pointing at the larger than life portrait of a decadent looking woman hung on the exterior wall of the hotel.

So, less than 30 minutes later, through a small opening between the masses of bodies stood before me, i caught a glimpse of Thailand’s Queen, dressed in white, as she walked the red carpet up the stairs towards the hotel entrance, turned back to face the crowds, and waved.

Final thoughts on Chiang Mai

I do like Chiang Mai. For a city it still retains a very laid back atmosphere. However, it is over-run with tourists, and i’ve noticed in particular, with pretty young Thai girls and ageing, often overweight, western men. I’ve passed them together in temples or in shops, walking along Chiang Mai’s busy streets or sharing drinks or a meal in one of the city’s numerous cafes/restaurants, but most frequently i’ve noticed them in bars.

Normally i will, quite comfortably, walk into any bar i pass, sit down, order a beer and read a book or write my journal. However, as i look into so many of Chiang Mai’s bars, the only men i see in them are pot-bellied, grey haired westerners and the only women i see are the sexy young Thai girls in short skirts who partner them, draping their arms around their necks and hanging off their every word like they’re Johhny Depp or something. Somehow i think i’d get looked at, and for all the wrong reasons, if i stepped foot in one of these establishments!

Photo is of a Thai dancer at the night market, Chiang Mai

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