I’ve arrived in Chiang Mai. The journey felt strangely uneventful – not because I expected my plane to fall out of the sky (though I would advise anyone following in my footsteps not to watch the first few episodes of ‘Lost‘ a day or so before such a journey, it creates far too many images of that iconic beach scattered with plane debris) – but because the run up has been so filled with activity, so compacted with visits, admin, tasks and appointments, and so saturated with meaning and import that it seemed a strange anti-climax to turn up at the airport and then, two airports and many hours later…arrive.
In this post, I’m going to talk about my first few days and my initial impressions. Sure these will change as time goes by – they are just a moment in time, fleeting thoughts and ideas in a barrage of new sensations and feelings. And they’re very specific to me – everyone creates their own tapestry, and this is just a small section of mine.
First impressions are a bit of a blur. I arrived at about 11pm Chiang Mai time, having left the day before at a similar time in the UK. So my head was a bit scrambled, and sleep was the first order of the day (night). Then in my first few days I’ve packed a lot in: catching up with an old friend; several vegetarian restaurants; socialising with interesting ex-pats; many scooter rides; a visit to the supermarket; an evening in a bar with a ‘drum-jam’; a Thai massage; and oddly, a ‘tex-mex’ bar.
So what have I noticed? It’s hot here. Well sure, I expected that, but I didn’t expect the heat to be pretty much perfect for me. Apparently, this is the ‘coldest’ it’s been for ages – there have been a couple of times late at night where a cardigan has been useful. The high is about 30 degrees C and the low 20 degrees C. So compared to the snow I left in England, not exactly cold… I have the windows open all the time, and in trying to acclimatize am not using my AC. The breeze blowing in smells fresh and sweet. The skies are a beautiful blue, and I can see the mountains from my windows. You can also hear the birds, which to my untrained ears sound many and varied, and very beautiful.
One thing I didn’t expect is that it gets dark early. By about 6pm, it’s dusk. This does feel a little similar to home – but the heat definitely doesn’t. In fact, I had a disconcerting moment using my computer to type this and catching sight of the date, whilst at the same time being able to see out the open window to the blue blue sky. My mind had a little difficulty connecting the date with the heat (cognitive dissonance my psych friends?). It’s definitely going to be an unusual Christmas. And in fact, there is no sign of Christmas here that I have seen. I’m told a few places do have some Christmas stuff, but I haven’t come across it yet. Maybe they also think it’s too early!
Something else that stands out are the sounds that have become part of my tapestry of Chiang Mai. For example, the ‘thwock thwock’ of flip-flops – these are the most common footwear here and you hear their distinct noise all the time. I’ve never really worn flip-flops before but now am trying a pair out (I know, pretty wild). So I’m also getting used to their noise in my own little bubble.
The other new but very common noise is that of the scooters. They sound a bit like a really loud mosquito, and are everywhere, and are one of the most common modes of transport. The traffic is quite different to the UK, despite driving on the left – my friend commented that you have to see the traffic as ‘flowing like water’, rather than the stop-start, obeying-rules style that we have in England. I’m starting to get used to it…I’m going to keep needing to keep my eyes and ears peeled when crossing the roads though…
Through my friend, I’ve been lucky enough to meet several new people already. There are lots of ex-pats here, and it’s a friendly place, with a small town feel (pop about 160k). Several times we’ve visited a café and met by accident people she knows, and all have an interesting story to tell. The town is also full of bloggers, so I’m feeling a bit out of depth with mine!
The food so far has been amazing. There are lots of veggie cafes, and I’ve loved what I’ve had so far, which has included lots of fresh fruit, Thai curry, noodles, salads, strong coffee and smoothies. The cafes are places where you can hang out all day, with friendly Thai proprietors who welcome you in.
One of the more unusual experiences so far was a visit to ‘The Living Place’, a casual and small bar, where anyone can come and join in the percussion/drum jamming. This makes for a hypnotic evening, listening to the different rhythms played with by the (very talented) drummers. Drinks are in mugs, and the space has a very living room feel, with cushions on the floor rather than chairs, and shoes taken off at the door.
I’ve been extremely lucky with my accommodation. A friend who is helping me settle in arranged for me to have a studio flat in the block where she lives. This has been great as she has helped with practicalities likes finding the supermarket, good places to eat, shopping for the odd thing I didn’t realise I needed, the layout of Chiang Mai, getting me to a Thai massage and also just hanging out.
The flat itself is lovely. White and bright, and generous for a studio apartment, it has a separate kitchen and bathroom, and a balcony area, as well as a fair amount of storage space – certainly my meagre possessions are easily lost in it. I have a huge and really comfortable bed (high on my list). There are several large windows, and as well as the bird song I can hear the sounds of the city, which are soothing rather than too intrusive. I’ve found it very restful. From my third floor balcony I can see both the
mish-mash of roofs and buildings below, which compared to my modern apartment building are older and in some cases, more run down, and also the mountains and lush greenery in the distance. We’re also a walk away from each others’ flats, which is strangely like being back in halls – grown up, peaceful, clean and sophisticated halls – but definitely a flavour of going back to uni where we met.
I had a very robust Thai massage a couple of days in to get rid of the cricks from the flight. It was pretty amazing, almost like yoga combined with massage, a massage where both participants are consistently entwined, and I was stretched into every position you can imagine, plus a few more. It definitely helped with my more general pain and neck cricks, and I’ll be going again, but it also has brought out a cold – sore neck, sore throat and cough. Not unexpected – I have a tendency to get ill as soon as I go on holidays, so whilst it’s a little annoying, I can relax as this time I know I have a lot more time to enjoy here. And I’ve already packed a lot in, and quickly – and when I left England, friends and family warned me not simply to create a mirror of my life in England but with social activities replacing work activities. It’s going to be a challenge to create a healthy tension between my mantra of ‘planning not to plan’ and being open to all the new experiences that come my way. There have been an abundance of such experiences already, and I need to judge which to take up and which to pass on.
But hey, don’t worry, I’m just starting book number five of the trip, so I’m obviously managing to find some time to relax!
Finally, I had a slight surprise when I arrived as I found my room already occupied – by a (small) Gecko. Whilst slightly unnerved by him (he’s very fast, too fast for a picture so far, but I’ll get one eventually!), I’m working on us living harmoniously – it’s the first time I’ve shared a room for a while after all! And apparently, he eats the bugs…and whilst I’m not mad keen on lizards, you don’t want to know how I feel about insects…
So as my final question today – what’s his name? Suggestions please…