After a layover in Bangkok, I headed up to Chiang Mai, the tourist epicenter of the North and gateway to hill tribe villages and treks, the Golden Triangle (more on this next week) and a variety of National Parks, including one boasting the highest peak in Thailand. Although the variety of attractions Chiang Mai has to offer me is appealing, I first look forward to having a home base for more than a measly two nights, a place packed with resources for my weary head and aching body.
Chiang Mai was just the place. The heart of the city’s layout was easy and stress-free to maneuver with a full variety of offerings within a relatively short distance. The downtown or Old City (i.e. tourist central) is within a moat, separating business geared towards travelers from those geared towards the locals. For once, the tourist offerings are more interesting than beyond the moat. With a ton of restaurants and guest houses competing for my baht, prices are very reasonable. Fresh foods, fruit juices, coffee houses, cooking classes, yoga and meditation classes, Muay Thai boxing matches, cabaret and plenty of bars: there is much to do within the city’s moat without even accounting for day trips and tours offered at every corner and guest house. Here I will feed my head, body and belly: the halfway point to heading home.
After day-long bus trips and not much in the way of physical activity (besides walking), a yoga class was certainly on my itinerary. Chiang Mai Yogasala offered relatively cheap all-level classes in the evening. The 2 hours of poses with an ambitious instructor wrung out the lifelessness each muscle from head-to-toe. I exited the studio wondering why I don’t do this more often. Yogasala was one of many yoga studios in the Old City but I’d recommend it highly for a challenging break from the tourist shuffle (quite similar to movie-theater-exit-walk).
To correspond with my agenda of rest and relaxation, I booked a room with more desirable enmities than my usual squalor. The Rendezvous Guest House offered me a balcony overlooking a gorgeous temple (Friday night monk chanting at no extra cost), a television with a few English channels, a hot shower and fridgerator. The place was immaculate by Thailand’s standards, meaning only a small parade of ants in bathroom. There was also a very cheap laundry service I took advantage off right down the block which properly laundered my fine frocks. (I’ve been hand washing my clothes since I arrived. Yes, with a washboard and tub o’ suds.)
Besides the tons of services and food offerings (see separate post) available here, there are the usual lovely Wats and monasteries. Immediately at my doorstep was Wat Phan On, a beautiful temple surrounded by tables and chairs under an umbrella of trees for contemplating the meaning of one’s life. Also within the temple was Monk’s Chat, where yo may ask to your heart’s content about monastic life. Feeling a bit shy and intimidated by the men in orange, I asked not.
Being intrigued by this sign right outside my guest house, I figured this play, offered at the auditorium of Chiang Mai’s AUA Language Center, would make for an interesting Friday night. Boarding a tuk-tuk to grab myself a ticket on the other side of town, it felt all the more home-like to have to be running errands.
Right before showtime I mingled amongst the theater folk in the foyer, scarfing down free fruit salad cups of sweetened banana, dragon fruit, apple, watermelon and pineapple, almost forgetting that the fruit wasn’t the main attraction. Between the criss-crossing talent and networking artists, I swore I wasn’t in Thailand. The attendees were mostly high-brow middle-aged Americans, even older art-farts, the GLBT community and the only African Americans I’ve seen since arriving. The diversity and energy was very NYC. The small theater filled up slowly and I spent the time fascinated by the many conversations around me that I could actually understand for a change. I missed the daily voyeurism of being within a culture I understand, in the stream of other’s lives in crowded Brooklyn.
The play consisted of 13 monologues followed by an open mic opportunity. Overall, the performance of the actors was good but the content, mostly uninspiring. There were interesting stories: one of a woman whose job was to teach gynecological med students the how-to’s of the clinical touch and another from a young woman from Myanmar escaping horrid conditions by way of the Thailand border, but many of the others were simplistic. Sitting and listening, I recognized that I embrace the That Takes Ovaries doctrine almost daily. But I was tired…and snuck out of the theater before I began to seriously consider communicating this to the crowd during the open mic session.