Here is a blurry image of what I look like at 6am getting off the train from Bangkok after 25 hours of travel with 12 more hours to go:

At this point we have spent about five days of bus/train/ferry/taxi transportation time, all of which has been cheap and uncomfortable. Every several hours there are rest stops that have bathrooms, all of which are strictly BYOTP. I held out for the first few weeks of traveling through Southeast Asia and brought along my own tissues but you gotta get used to the spray nozzle at some point. Here is an above-average bathroom stall.

Finally we arrived in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand where we would end up spending two weeks in the home of James Patrick Hawkins, American inventor, pre-eminent Thai Buddhist amulet scholar, one of the world’s first internet marketing experts, fascinating person and gracious host. I’ll write more about our time with James and his family next post; since we spent two weeks in Chiang Mai I’ll address that first.

Chiang Mai (“New City”) is located in Northern Thailand about 700km from Bangkok. It is the most culturally important city in Northern Thailand and with almost a million people is the major city in the region. It was founded in 1296 by a king of the Lanna Empire which supported the growth of the city and temples throughout the area for centuries. Today it is a sprawling semi-metropolitan area surrounding the Old City, the original city which is surrounded by an ancient crumbling brick wall and a moat. Inside the Old City are mostly guesthouses, temples, bazaars, family-owned shops and small homes.

Here is a picture of one corner of the wall of the old city surrounded by the moat.

Our home was in a village south of the airport, about ten kilometers from the old city. Despite spending two weeks in the city, our exploration of the area was somewhat limited. We got a very good feel of what life is like in the upper-middle class suburbs but as far as the rest of the city life is like we could only get a tourist perspective. We visited more than a dozen wats (Buddhist temples), visited markets as well as locals-only areas and spent time with many Thai suburbanites. Even the perspective that we gained cannot be adequately related by the pictures I have to present here; far from it, in fact. Nevertheless, our stay in Chiang Mai was very interesting and gave us a comfortable base from which to take in the sights, sounds and movements of a big Thai city.


The city has several big tourist markets where we spent a few hours walking around. They are mostly night bazaars that get packed by nine or ten at night. They are safe and well lit but are loud and there are many distractions like the sellers leering at you from every stall trying to grab your attention to sell you something. The more bags of already purchased items you are holding, the more they come up to you.

Every market has one or two game stalls. We ended up buying a chess board and a backgammon board for a total of 350 Baht ($11.60), which we decided was only about twice what a Thai would pay.

I bought five awesome T-shirts in Chiang Mai, one of which was stolen on the bus ride back to Bangkok. Every market in Thailand has dozens of stalls of great shirts. Kristof brought along his trusty calculator to negotiate the best prices on the shirts, which run about five bucks for tourists.

Here is a group of blind musicians arranged in a line in the center of the market walkway. All over SE Asia we have seen blind or crippled entertainers in market areas playing for tourist dollars. I liked this group because it was the first band I saw playing together in a place that forces you to notice. They were probably some of the better paid such entertainers we have come across.

In the markets you can get your feet cleaned by fish for one dollar per twenty minutes. I haven’t indulged yet but I plan to in Cambodia.

Every once in a while you come across a hidden gem: something delicious being cooked on a side street by an unassuming woman with a foodcart. This particular cart featured crepes with banana, chocalate and sugar cream.

As I wrote about in a post about Koh Phangan, people in this part of the world are quite daring when it comes to riding motorcycles. We’ve seen countless twosomes and threesomes on bikes and keep the camera around to take pictures of the elusive four member families (with no helmets) riding around town on motorbikes. In addition to taking multiple passengers, often riders can be seen transporting awkwardly shaped items like wooden boards, pigs, toilets, whatever.

Most of the big signs around town, at malls and at tourist attractions have some English. In Thailand the English version of goodbye is actually French.

Near our host’s home is a mall called “The Big C.” The foodcourt has decent food that costs the reasonable price of approximately $1.50 for rice with stir-fry vegetables and your choice of meat. Kristof took a good look while a kid drove up, parked where he wanted and walked away.

One evening we went to a Vietnamese restaurant across the street from the Presidential Hotel. The only sign in English is probably the most pertinent information for tourists. It says 79 Baht for the buffet, 119 Baht for all-you-can-eat off the menu, and 199 Baht for “can’t finish all food.”

Besides hanging around town we visited many temples, had a once-in-a-lifetime trip with our host to the Buddhist amulet market and spent two days in the jungle riding elephants and trekking about. Stay tuned.

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