Farewell to Chiangmai

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A highlight of my third week in Chiangmai was the visit of Wanissa, a very good friend of MF.

Wanissa is a radiological technician at a hospital in Rayong, an industrial city in central Thailand a couple of hours east of Bangkok. She's been there for three years, and works long, hard hours. She likes to visit Chiangmai, where she went to university, and MF, she says, to "eat and sleep."

We certainly ate, though I wasn't privy to her sleeping. We took her to one of our favourite restaurants, a Thai place just off Chang Phuak, where the deep-fried, crispy grouper is to die for; the fancy-ass restaurant by a lake at the top of suthep Road, at the foot of Doi Suthep, the mountain that overlooks Chiangmai (expensive! over $9 apiece!); and to a picnic lunch at the top of Doi Suthep, featuring barbecued duck, some other goodies, and fresh fruit.

There are a couple of regular touristy, night-time street markets in Chiangmai that compete for attention.

The first takes place every Saturday night off Chiangmai Gate, the south gate of the old city. You begin to notice you're approaching it when you can barely get anywhere, because the pile-up of huge tourist buses, mini-buses, saeng-kows, motorcycles, private vehicles and the like are trying to crowd into as small a space as possible, some dumping their passengers while others try to compete for closer space, etc. That's right, chaos. In my case, fortunately I was on a motorcycle so was able to get through, but had to park several blocks away and return to the entrance to the market, where with the others I was completely hemmed in by tourists on all sides.

In fact, I could only barely see what was for sale in the stalls, so intense was the crush. Just a glimpse, every now and then; most of the time, all I could see was my fellow punters. And of course there were also street performers, and somehow the crush had to get around them. So we turned around, followed the crush back out to the street, and headed off.

Sunday night's market, taking up most of the plaza attached to Tha Phae Gate (the east gate to the old city), and extending down several blocks of Ratchadamnoen Road, which heads into the heart of the old city. MF begged off, so Wanissa and I went down to explore. It wasn't as I bought a much of a tin of sardines as the night before—quite a pleasurable experience, in fact. Many of the stalls had a character missing from most markets—not the usual t-shirts and souvenirs, stuff you can buy as easily in Pai or Chiangmai or Bangkok. I bought a nice hammock for home, and a Manny Pacquiao t-shirt, which I was pleased and surprised to see in Thailand. Wanissa bought little gifts for her co-workers back in Rayong. It's always nice to see someone with social skills, don't you think?

The rest of my last week in Chiangmai was spent madly dashing around, getting as much riding in as I could, having many great meals with BFF MF, and getting ready to be on the move again.

Notable was a terrific ride from Chaingmai to Lamphun, a town to the southeast. The road to Lamphun is lined by very tall trees, and is quite a picturesque ride (not that I stopped to take any photos—kicking myself!). At Lamphun, we stopped at a stall called "Coffee Sweet," and had iced/hot coffees. The gal in charge, despite that the measly profits she'd made from our trade won't get any of her kids close to a university, drew us a map to the local wat, which turned out to be quite the impressive complex. We checked it out, had some deep-fried peppers for a little snack, and headed home.

Spending three weeks in a place is quite unlike spending four days—a duration that'll be quite common on this trip. At the end of the stay, I'd learned enough about the city that I wasn't getting lost any more, had picked up enough Thai phrases that I could visit a restaurant with little need for English, and could move around with some confidence that I knew where I was going, when I'd get there, and what I'd find when I did. It helps, of course, to have a good guide, and I certainly had that in MF.

And I made new friends, to boot!

Time very well spent.

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