Northern Thailand is cooler and much rainier than the South. Aaah, Vancouver prepared me for this. In fact, it’s a nice change from the unrelenting heat of Bangkok and I’m getting to use my layers for the first time since Czech Land.
Chiang Mai was the first stop on our tour. Our main reason for coming here was to research its Thai massage schools, as it’s pretty much the country’s headquarters on the subject and we will commit ourselves to a comprehensive program that will prepare us to practise and even teach professionally. It’s really between two schools – the fun and lively Institute of Massage Training or the more formal and serious Thai Massage College. Either way, we have some months to decide as we are planning to come back in April after a stint of teaching English to plump up the ol’ bank accounts.
In Chiang Mai’s old quarter (ringed by a moat with spouting fountains), you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a guesthouse, Internet café, restaurant, food stall, Thai massage spa, laundry service or motorbike rental shop. It’s a backpacker’s haven and a high proportion of the city’s population are travellers and ex-pats. One wonderful side effect of this has been a flourishing vegetarian trend on restaurant menus. There’s suddenly an abundance of dishes besides Phad Thai that I can order and thoroughly enjoy! Mmm… The ex-pat culture also brought a number of used book stores, yoga studios and there’s even a welcome group for anyone looking to make Chiang Mai their home. I think we’re going to enjoy our extended stay here.
In the meantime, we’ve pushed further north. Hearing much (from encouraging to lamenting) about the town of Pai we came to see for ourselves. Here the backpackers seem to number at least a third of the population. I can barely imagine what it’ll be like once the season picks up. However, guesthouses and food are cheap, people are friendly and we’ve taken the opportunity to meet our first elephant.
This is Pa Nuat who’s reached a ripe wise age of 35, loves fruit, peanuts and sugarcane stalks and is well taken care of by her conscientious owner Chitty.
Thailand seems to be a dog country. Sure, people also keep cats, chickens, cows and even elephants. (Surprisingly, I’ve only seen one pig and heard another couple from behind a fence… Somehow suspicious for a culture that consumes pork at nearly every meal… Perhaps they are going extinct…) But back to the pooches. They are everywhere, usually in packs of 2-4, inevitably lounging smack in the middle of the road where vehicles have to swerve or lay on the horn to get a right of way. Rich figures it’s the local form of canine machismo, a sort of lazy courtship display, the dogs’ version of leather-jacket-wearin’ cigarette-danglin’ casually-leanin’ rebel without a cause. It says to any female in sight: “Hey Baby, did you see that truck get out of my way? That’s right, you know what I’m talkin’ about.” And so forth.
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