Chianganigans

Ahead of the long weekend and my flight to Chaing Mai, I travelled with Usana back to Bangkok for a night.

For dinner we returned to the restaurant where she first took me when I stayed with her in Bangkok, and ordered an outrageous amount of food. I sampled everything from Tom Yam soup, grilled chilli brocolli to However was absolutely horrified when she suggested ‘crispy prawn balls’. My only experience of such food is the processed versions that my housemate Alix orders from the Chinese on Erleigh Road, which she slathers in an offensively bright sweet and sour gloop. Upon arriving however, the crispy balls had the same embarrassing effect on my prejudice and presuppositions as the very restaurant did dismantling my preconceptions on my first visit. In contrast to their Erleigh Road counterparts, these prawn patties were deliciously fresh and light, and it wasn’t long before I’d virtually inhaled the whole plate.

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The next morning, I apprehensively flew on the budget airline Thai Lion Air to Chiang Mai. The aircraft was one of the smallest I’ve ever been on, in every way. The leg room was virtually non existent and the seats were so minute that I was genuinely shocked as to how such an aircraft is even in operation, when anybody over a size M would struggle to fit into them.

Once I had landed and crippled with cramp, I jumped into a taxi to meet Caitlin and Katy at the hotel. We excitedly exchanged our stories from the last fortnight, as our experiences of teaching and living in Thailand are so vastly different from one another’s. That night, we went for a wander through the city and uncovered th most beautiful temples. Being the beginning of Buddhist Lent, the streets were full of prayer goers making their way to one of th numerous temples, with their candles, incense and flowers at the ready as an offering. Following the crowd, we found ourselves at one of the oldest temples in the city. Erected on a mount, the crumbling remains stood eerily and impressively in the dark illuminated only by the candle light.

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We circled the temple before making our way onto the next. Barely after a few yards, we came across another temple that was completely different the Gothic like one we had just experienced. Here, lit candles scattered the floor creating a path up to a pool. The water too was filled with glowing candles, at which a golden Buddah sat at the back. The unexpected abrupt monsoon shower that drowned me somewhat ruined my zen, but the serenity of the temple, the water and the candles were unscathed.

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The religious festival meant that none of the bars or shops in Thailand were permitted to sell any alcohol, something which caused much despair to many of the other ETAs. I’m at a loss as to why anybody would come to Thailand for two months and be in constant search of their next bucket. The vast majority of those on the TET programme are university students and thus have the opportunity to get white girl wasted virtually all the time. Had I chosen to stock up before the religious festivities began and sat with Caitlin and Katy in our hotel room getting drunk, I would never have got to see the two vastly contrasting temples that both celebrated Lent in two very different ways, or wandered the quaint side roads of the old city in the moonlight.

When we were in Bangkok we were desperate to get a Thai massage, but unfortunately ran out of time searching for a legitimate massage parlour amoung the institutions offering a very different kind of exotic massage. My psychology housemate Alix’s interest in prisoners thus led me to try and convince Caitlin and Katy that a massage at Chiang Mai women’s prison was an excellent choice. After much persuading, they gave in, and we roamed the streets of the old city in search for the prison. When we arrived, the sight of the prison walls and bolted steel door made me question my choice of massage venue. Luckily, the actual centre was a different building entirely on the other side of the road. The scheme acts as a rehabilitation programme for the prisoners who have six months or less left of their sentence, with all proceeds going towards a fund for the women once they have left prison as a means of integrating back into society. The food at the cafe on site is also all prepared and cooked by prisoners, as well as the products at the shop, with all proceeds going towards the same fund.

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Once we had changed into the clothes provided, we were taken to our beds for our massages. I had little knowledge of Thai massages previously, apart from I knew the premise was that of stretching. I was however, not prepared for the intensity in which my inmate would attempt to disjoin my limbs. As she straddled me, pulling all my toes out of their respective sockets and bending my body in ways that it wasn’t intended to be bent, I pondered over what her crime was. Shoving her foot into my groin as she annihilated my calves, I concluded she was convicted of GBH as she was well on her way to another sentence.

On our last night we visited the Sunday walking street, a weekly market that completely transforms a mile long road after dark. What felt like ever vendor in the province came and set up stall, squeezing in to sell a variety of handmade goods and commercial gifts, and was by far the best market I’ve visited in Thailand so far. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances we each had to pay a lot more than expected for our hostel and the Elephant Nature Park, meaning I was extremely out of pocket. Rather stupidly I’d left my emergency debit card in Saraburi and thus was unable to buy anything from the market. Thrown back to my first year poverty days, I salvaged all my coppers to scrape together enough for a meal a day, with Caitlin temporarily taking Usana’s place as my guardian angel, buying me iced drinks throughout the day. By the time we reached the walking market I was forced to succumb and surrender my dislike for noodles at the fate of a Pad Thai. My empty stomach churned as greasy noodles that had been sitting in the pan for enough time to go cold were piled high in a polystyrene dish. At 20baht (40p), it was as expected, absolutely revolting.

As the second biggest city in Thailand, I’d heard only glowing reviews of Chiang Mai. Exploring the streets of the old city, I constantly felt that there was something I was missing and was completely underwhelmed by it all. Despite being encompassed by mountains, Chiang Mai doesn’t hold any of the beautiful scenery or charm that Ayutthaya had, nor as a city does it feel as alive as Bangkok. The old city is essentially a large square, enclosed by the ancient city walls, outside of which the new city has been expanded. The old city is what especially had been recommend by various people I’d met, but I was and still am at a loss as to why it’s so popular, other than being a hub in which one can visit other places.

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