Not a chance I can follow Geoff’s last blog with anything that entertaining so am just providing some observations about this city.
Chiang Mai metro area has nearly a million people but the city core itself is quite small and nothing like Bangkok: only a few random highrises but mostly two-storey walk-ups interspersed with the ubiquitous temples and not quite so many corrugated iron shacks. The city center is surrounding by a moat and the remains of an old brick wall. It is a boon to cab and tuk-tuk drivers as they can never get anywhere without having to do fairly lengthy runs around the moat. They were originally trying to keep barbarians out, if an.
A gray haze covers the city at all times but seems to be strongest in the morning, when we can barely make out the outline to the mountain a few miles away. We have learned that it is caused by smoke from fires put to the rice fields after harvest. The good news is that from our observations, the growing of rice is staggered, so as one pond is planted another is harvested, then burned. Can’t imagine how intolerable it would be if all the burning happened at once. My eyes are always red in the morning and at night but the air does not seem bad on street level.
We do find Chiang Mai to be a lot like Jiaxing. The streets are organized in themes, so that if you pass one music shop, you will pass 6 or more, all on the same block. The next block might be plastic goods, the next engine parts. Could be both a help or hindrance to competition. Chiang Mai is far far more quiet, however! No horn honking, no buses, just the red trucks and tuk-tuks. Soooo much nicer. No one is in a big hurry either, and we go at the relaxed pace of the speed limit. Imagine. Also like China, the cost of living is low but prosperity is on the rise, at least for some. On our sojourns out of town, we see many billboards advertising a Western style of living in new homes that would fit any subdivision in North America, with names like “Esteem”, “Success” or “Bliss.” BMWs and Mercedes are drawn in the driveways and garages and the happy families, often very Caucasian-looking, smile out of the picture. The dream is clear; for how many it is attainable, is not.
The city is within an hour and a half from the Golden Triangle, the area bordering Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. A day trip was offered to go to a National park in that area where you are able to see the borders but it seemed a thrill easily missed. There are lots of young people, here for the outdoor adventures, including the Flight of The Gibbons–a tree top park, filled with zip lines, high wires and numerous places where one can challenge a fear of heights and get an adrenaline rush. Sky-divers come down in close proximity to elephant parks, where the view from above must be amazing. Cyclists storm past on the roads during rush hour, even when the temperature is in the 90s, which it has been every day since we arrived. We are told in Thailand the seasons are hot, hotter and hottest. This is winter; not sure we could handle summer!
Our hotel is outside the moat and just across the street from a night market, which occurs every night, but requires daily set up. With lots of (Western) safety infractions, men on motorcycles move the 5′ x 3′ x 7′ display trolleys on and off the street by driving the motorbike with one half the body and pulling and guiding with the other hand and foot. It’s fun but a bit like shopping on the streets of downtown Jiaxing or in most malls: the same stuff appears over and over. We had fun last night having a 15 minute exfoliation session where we put our feet in aquariums filled with little fishes who just love to munch off the dead skin. Good times!
Off to golf on our last day in Chiang Mai.