Day 8. 26 Jan. 2011. Chiang Mai, revisited. Or rather, really visited.
What a day! Is it my imagination, or do we manage to cram more things into a single day than should really be possible?
We woke up, on time, for breakfast. Jennifer did her very best to give us a lighter breakfast this morning, but wasn’t very successful. We were served a pastry selection, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, a yoghurt cup with mango and honey this time, and a fruit plate. Thankfully not another huge English breakfast, but still quite a lot.
Pon came over to check that noon would be a good time to take us into town, so we spent the time packing up and I relaxed by the pool while Matt worked on something on my iPad. Then it was time to go.
Pon had picked up prickly ash and Thai spring roll wrappers for us at the market, and we settled the last part of our bill. Then we drove to town, where we checked into the guest house that Don and Paola had recommended: Sparrow’s Nest Guest House. It’s more centrally located than SK House, although both are quite central. It’s more expensive, 700 baht per night, and the rooms are smaller, but they’re more private. In their own little garden in the alley behind the hotel (duong ch-something… Probably means sparrow’s nest), they are like mini vacation cottages. I really like the bamboo seat in the garden, and was reading there later until the mosquitos got too bad.
After checking in, we showered and sat around a bit. Then, just as we were getting ready for a wander and were in the process of texting Don to let them know we were also there, he showed up. Their room is 2 doors from ours. 🙂 he made some recommendations about where to walk, and we were just leaving when Pon showed up with our forgotten sweatshirts that we’d left at Sompon’s. Then we went for a walk.
Now we are staying in the same neighborhood the big Sunday night artisan market had been in, and it’s a nice and very busy place. There are numerous wats, free-range monks, schools, monks-in-schools, cafe’s, and all kinds of shops and tour agents. And massage studios, fish spas, bars, guest houses, hotels, street vendors, etc.
We went to a wat: Wat Sri-Kerd. Inside, Matt noticed the double Buddha effect. I think I’ve seen it in all of them, but now I’m not so sure. There are 2 giant buddhas, one behind and above the other, preceded by numerous smaller buddhas, in various rankings. This shrine also had a statue and photos of a bespectacled man in lotus position, represented at varying ages. The papers inside gave no indication of who specifically he is. I could make several plausible guesses, but I’ll spare us all the blind speculation for now.
There was also a funny box with two slots, which obviously requested a deposit of 5 or 10 baht, but I had no idea what for. So I put in 10 baht. A moment later all the lights spun crazily, but I still had no idea, so I took a picture to ask someone later.
We had coffee, then Matt had some street food next to a school, where only a group of workmen were eating. I sat in the shade like the workmen, squatted on the ground, while waiting for him.
After, Matt needed to use a full-sized computer, so while he was occupied there, I went around the corner to check out the fish spa. Basically, they have these low aquariums with many many little sucker fish. The fish eat dead skin and who knows what else off your feet while you sit there for about a half hour. It tickles, but not very much. Some of the fish are stronger than others, and you can really feel them as they make their way across your foot or ankle. If I spread my toes, they wriggled into the space and jostled for territory. If I thought too much about it while watching, it seemed kind of creepy. So I tried to think about how funny it was. And it really was. What a strange thing to do. I’ve heard about it before, even in Europe, but had never had the opportunity to try.
I had expected that Matt would have to come get me, but in fact I had to go find him at the internet cafe. Silly me: I’d underestimated my IT husband’s computer withdrawal. I think he would have been perfectly content to stay there all day!
We really liked the sweets shop, where all the snacks were stacked in tins. Pretty. Actually, sweets shops anywhere are pretty. It must be like working in a flower shop, surrounded daily by bright colored temptation.
We walked around for a while longer, then stopped at another pair of street stalls. I bought an iced drink and Matt picked up some fried miscellaneous things. Chicken, quail eggs in wonton wrappers, some kind of fish he spit out, and something else I don’t remember. We carried these back to the guest house, where we found Paola on her computer in the hotel lobby.
After a short rest, I decided to join the yoga lesson in the studio in the back garden. It’s been probably about 10 years since I last practiced yoga, but I’m generally pretty strong and flexible, so I figured what the hell. I need to work off some of Sompon and Jennifer’s food anyway. Matt napped, and Paola, Don and I joined the instructor and one other student.
An hour later I was smelly and pleased with myself, and there was just enough time to shower before Nik picked us up for dinner.
Dr. Nik (I don’t know his last name) was one of Matt’s dad’s students, back in the early/mid ’90’s. We met him in 2008 or so when he spoke at the first Robert Feigal Symposium (Matt should explain this, not me). He’s from Chiang Mai originally, so a few days before we traveled, we got in touch with him. Turns out, Chiang Mai being the small town it is, he also used to be the dentist for Sompon’s children.
Nik took us to his favorite restaurant, an open air seafood restaurant nearly in the Kalare night bazar. The staff all knew him, and the owner, an older woman with a wide smile and a lot of lipstick, came over to joke with him and say hello. The restaurant had a shallow trough running decoratively through it, and it was full of gorgeous and gigantic langoustines, which were certainly being scooped out to provide supper!
Nik chose everything, with our encouragement. This involved talking at length with our waitress, with quick asides to us. We had fresh mango shakes, Tom yum shrimp (sorry I forget what shrimp is in Thai, but I know it’s not gai, because that’s chicken; anyway, spicy shrimp soup), shrimp in chili jam, fried whole fish with a light sweet and sour sauce, soft shelled crabs in a pale yellow mellow curry (our favorite of the night), and cellophane noodles with grilled shrimp and a salsa-like green sauce for pouring over. Delicious! We offered to pay, especially as Nik had already offered to subsidize a Friday-Saturday adventure to Mae Hong Son, to see Lon cave, including eyeless fish, but he wouldn’t let us. He said our money’s no good here, and that he wouldn’t let the staff accept it. Besides, he seems to have a game going with the owner, where he tries to guess the cost of the meal. He said once he was only 10 baht off, which is pretty amazing since I’m not sure how closely our meal corresponded to the menu.
Nik was, unsurprisingly, a wonderful person to have met with. We vaguely remembered that from meeting him before. He’s incredibly enthusiastic about everything, warm, and very generous. I feel a little weird accepting his generosity, but I got the impression he would brook no argument. Matt says that it’s probably to do with his dad, and how well he cared for his international students. So, on Friday morning, a driver will pick us up from our guest house to drive us west.
Having started late for dinner due to Nik’s work schedule, it was also late by the time we were done eating. Matt suggested we walk home, rather than letting Nik drive us, which gave us the opportunity to stop in at C.E.C. Loikroh boxing stadium, where Don had mentioned he’d be watching Muay Thai this evening.
The stadium was in a pretty seedy part of town, or so I thought at the time. In daylight, it’s pretty normal. It’s in the center of a collection of small bars filled with girls and lady boys. We found a relatively quiet section, and ordered drinks while settling in to watch the fights. We saw 3 and one more that was more of a closing clown show than a real match.
The first was between a very muscular young man with a dark face and a friendly expression, and a slightly less muscular, paler young man. It wasn’t very exciting, but I was rooting for the muscular one and he won. I chose him because he was kind of funny when doing his warm-up stretches.
The second match was awesome. I had a hard time choosing which one I’d root for, but in the end I decided on the one in the white shorts. These two were extremely well-matched, and so it went on for quite a while. There were many excellent blows and kicks landed by both fighters.
Oh, I have I mentioned that I studied Muay Thai for about 6 years? I wasn’t very good in such a short time, but it gives me a pretty good sense of what I’m watching. By the end of the first fight I was feeling pretty enthusiastic, and remembering more of what I’m seeing.
Anyway, the second match. Good hits by both sides meant that I was not at all sure that I’d chosen the right guy, but in the end, he hit his opponent well enough that he went down against the ropes and stayed down. Stayed down so long, in fact, that several extra people jumped into the ring and my guy, white shorts, was also there, helping him up. He supported his opponent from the ring, before returning to thank the crowd. Here’s a picture of them earlier in the fight:
There was one more match (real match). These ones were taller. The more muscular one didn’t stretch or warm up at all, pre-match, so I chose the other guy. They were much more vicious, landing extremely hard kicks, punches and elbows from the very start. The one I’d selected had a grin on his face the entire time, but it was an angry grin, or so it seemed to me. He was slightly smaller, but he had better control. For a while, though, that didn’t seem to matter, because the bigger guy got in some really rough ones, including a time while they were locked, kneeing each other repeatedly in the ribs. In the end, however, my guy prevailed. But it was so mean by that point that I had mixed feelings as I clapped and cheered.
3 for 3, the fights were clearly over. All the Thai people left, and the last winner went around with a donation box (we’d also paid entry) while a older guy who’d been clowning around with the audience entered the ring with a young wiry guy. The waitresses and lady-boy waitresses dragged the chairs back to their bars while these 2 held a match that reminded me of world wrestling federation, lots of fake tosses, including over the ropes. It was fun and silly, but it was time to go.
We walked back to the guest house, cleaned up, and went to bed. Good night!
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