*This post was originally published on June 8th, 2012 on amywarcup.com
Three nights in Bangkok passes quickly, but for some, it is just about enough before the crowded streets, sewage odor, and constant, around-the-clock sounds of traffic and club music wears thin. That is when it is time to venture north, where the pace of living is slow and easy, the people are friendly, and faces on the street become familiar after just a few days.
After traveling more than half way around earth just a few days ago, our one-hour flight to the northwest Thai city of Chiang Mai felt like a walk up the street. Everything is different about Chiang Mai, in my opinion, compared to Bangkok. Oh…don’t get me wrong. I have a certain fondness and appreciation for the bizarreness of Thailand’s capital, but Chiang Mai, well…it feels like home to me. It was only six months ago that I left Thailand’s second-largest city, when I staying there for more than five weeks. Bringing six students to this place brought on a mix of elation and anxiety for me. I couldn’t wait to return to these familiar streets where I could eat some Kao Soi, see the smiling faces at the Thai massage school, and have the opportunity to bring people I know with me to experience these, too. On the other hand, I had moments of concern…Would they like it? Would they feel at home here, as I did? After all, this will be our residence for most of our stay on the trip. We will be here for eighteen days. For someone who has never been to Asia before, this may be a long time.
If the greeting at the airport sets the feeling for everyone’s stay, though, I feel quite confident that even the most homesick of the group grow to enjoy Chiang Mai. Typically, our group would be picked up by a driver sent by the hotel. When we arrived in the Chiang Mai airport, however (which is about a thirtieth of the size of Suvarnabhumi airport), we were greeted by the owner of the Thai Massage School Shivagakomarpaj, Mr. Parawat Poungpiam (nicknamed “Mr. PP”), his wife, his administrative assistant, Nuy, and teacher Rose. All of them smiled, took our luggage from our hands, and introduced themselves. I was struck with awe and amazement, as I was not expecting to be greeted by everyone at the school –especially the owner! In his hands, Mr. PP held of bundle of strings of jasmine flowers. He placed one around my neck, saying “welcome to Chiang Mai,” as his wife took a photo. He proceeded to place flowers around each traveler –Emily, Chelsey, Bree, Katelyn, Adam, and Kate, and welcomed them as well. After this benevolent introduction, I feel confident everyone will be comfortable here.
Our two and a half week place of residence is at the Baan Thai Resort, just a few miles from the airport, and directly across the street from the Thai massage training center. What sets this hotel apart from so many others is the beauty of the building itself, which is made of 100% pure teakwood, with intricately hand-crafted doors and chairs. From the outside, the place looks quite stunning. Thai gardens and a delightfully inviting pool (especially in the 96 degree weather) surround the traditional Lanna-style northern Thai building. The rooms, however, are a bit simple, with plain wooden walls, a simple thin mattress on the bed, and a shower head and toilet in the bathroom. Once settled in the room, though, I find it has everything I need for a comfortable stay, including plenty of company if I get lonely. Ants greet me at the bathroom sink every morning, geckos look down from the ceiling with wondering eyes, and a bat, which I haven’t quite seen yet, sings me a screechy soprano lullaby at night. Although I was a bit leery of this company at first, we seem to be sharing the space in harmony just fine so far. As for the rest of the group – some have air-conditioners that work better, some have windows and some don’t, but everyone has a bed, toilet, and hot (or at least luke-warm) water. Swimming at the pool is a treat for most of us, too. Everyone took a break that first day to indulge in the pool.
That evening, we all ate together at one of my Chiang Mai favorites, the Blue Diamond, and devoured Thai fruit, noodles, spring rolls, and shots of wheat grass.
I ordered my favorite, of course – Kao Soi. We’ve been separated for six months, after all.
Tomorrow evening we will attend a Buddhist ceremony at Srisupan temple, and Sunday we will partake in an all-day cooking class. Until then, I will be sleeping next to my gecko pals and dreaming of fruit shakes, mangoes and sticky rice in my teakwood little room.