Virtual meanderings

First day in Chiang Mai

A meeting point at Chiang Mai central area

    In the early afternoon, I went downtown to meet a couple from Slovenia that I had met on the bus. It was one of several casual but nice encounters along the way that made the trip more pleasant and memorable. Upon arrival at Chiang Mai we had decided to meet at some place easy to find, like for example… the market. Looking back, it amazes me how clueless we were and what we were thinking choosing an oriental marketplace as a meeting point.

Map of Chiang Mai Historical Center

Map of Chiang Mai

Hey, that market thing was just a small dot on the map…

    Getting to the market was easy indeed – every local guy knew where it was (the reason for choosing it as our meeting point). But actually meeting there proved hard. The Chiang Mai market was a traditional Oriental covered market place, and it spanned a whole city block, too. It had no less than twenty entrances, all leading the novice into a labyrinth of passage ways. Just about everything was sold there – fruit, vegetables, spices, fish, souvenirs, clothes, electronics, you name it. To put things in perspective, it was like being in Istanbul and arranging a meeting with some friend “at Kapaly Carsi, like, somewhere inside, you know.”

    Upon arrival at the market each of us had realized that it would be impossible to find each other inside and that the only way to meet was at some entrance. Which one? Exchanges of text messages followed…say, entrance #14? Sure, no problem.
Now, where for the love of Lord is entrance 14? Must be between 13 and 15, right? Right… the entrances were numbered in a somewhat weird way that seemed completely random. The entrance numbers went something like 1, 6, 3, 18, 12, 8, 5, etc. You can guess what followed – we spent a good half hour texting ourselves – where are you? I am at gate 15 – OK – wait for me… I see gate 14, but its neighbors are 1 and 7…
Eventually we bumped unto each other purely by chance.

    Having solved this, we went for some street food – a mutlitude of stalls and vendors practiced their trade around the market. In Bangkok I had not tried any street food – just some drinks which were really good, by the way. But the Slovenians were more adventurous than I was. So we got some rice, some fried chicken legs and mango salad. All was edible but I’ve eaten better. As for the mango salad –- mmmmango salad – sounds delicious! It is very popular in Thailand and is indeed made of mango. Those who have been to Thailand know what it tastes and looks like. Nothing even remote like mango. How come? For starters, it is made from mangos that are not yet ripe. One such mango gets shredded to tiny pieces and the end result looks and tastes a lot like cabbage – which is alright, if you asked me. But once you throw in the ubiquitous fish sauce – which I never learned to like – and there you have your ‘mango salad.’
The whole meal – rice, chicken legs and salad cost B50 all together, that is, less than $2.

Next: a visit to the Chiang Mai Zoo

    Well, it is the Chiang Mai National Museum where we actually wanted to go. But it was a Monday, and it had a day off. The friendly people in the red track who took us there knew that but took us nonetheless. Oh, well…. Then we decided to try, I believe, the Arts and Cultural Centre – which was supposed to be open (even on Monday). Or so the travel guide book said. We hopped on another red truck and got there to find out that the Centre was closed too – for renovation. It would only open in a month or so (But at least we got some nice brochures from a kind lady at the Centre central office)
So, it is easy to understand why we decided “enough museums for today”. And this is how we ended up going to the Zoo – with wild animals confined in small concrete floor cages. OK, I lied! The Chiang Mai zoo was nothing like that. It is hands down the best-deisgned zoo I have ever been to. It looked more like a tamed jungle (right, it’s not so hard to have it this way in Thailand), with plenty of trees everywhere and large fenced areas for the animals.

A view from Chiang Mai Zoo

Hey, I want to live in this Zoo, too!

Courtesy: author

But not in this spot!

But not here!

Courtesy: author

What about here?

What about here?

Courtesy: author

Also inside I saw a giant panda for the first time ever (the pandas were kept in a special air-conditioned pavilion, for which you needed to buy an extra ticket).

Giant Pandas at Chiang Mai Zoo

Giant Pandas at Chiang Mai Zoo

Courtesy: author (photo quality is bad as no flash was allowed)

And last, but not least, the Zoo featured a big aquarium with fish and various marine animals. It is supposed to be the best in Thailand (and would cost you B200). We got a bit too late to it and the last admission fore the day had been twenty minutes ago.
Note: In Japan – a month and a half later – I was able to visit the huge Okeanarium in Osaka. This is the aquarium to visit in Asia – especially if you fancy whale sharks. I will be devoting a special post to the Okeanarium later.

A Thai horse

No comment

Courtesy: author

Chiang Mai Evening: Prisoner style massage

    When we got back from the Zoo, it was already evening. The Slovenes wanted to go for a massage.
Did you know that Chiang Mai is the “massage capital” of Thailand? You did not. It has a long tradition as all the established massage schools are located there. When it comes to massage in South-East Asia it is a hit-or-miss situation – even in Chiang Mai, make no mistake about that. We chose a place that was not far from where we were standing. The price was B180, or just half of what they’d charge you on any of the tourist-frequented islands. And it was good.
Later that evening at dinner we were browsing through some ad-filled brochures, and we came across an ad for that very massage parlour. It said that the masseuses were former female prisoners enrolled in a government-sponsored “after-prison” rehabilitation program.
This immediately made me feel even better. Contributing one notch towards the livelihood of those poor young women was way better than letting some tuk-tuk driver rip me off for the same money. I am not sure what these girls went to prison for in the first place – but it was likely stuff like petty theft and possibly drug abuse. Thai prisons are another huge topic and plenty of information is available online for those interested, so I have nothing to add here.


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