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Bangkok | Southern Beaches | Chiang Mai | Running Hash

Chiang Mai: Punks and Monks

A Very Sleep-Able Sleeper Train — Our tans finally even, we jumped on a sleeper train and headed way up North to Chiang Mai, to catch up with Will’s cousin Sophie for the annual flower festival. Since that train trip, we've taken more modern sleeper cars (Eurail) and er... much less modern sleeper cars (India) and nothing compares to the cost, comfort and cleanliness of a Thai sleeper train. What a wonderful ride, rocking gently through the countryside at night with the full moon peering in at you over the passing bamboo and rice fields.

Chaos City

If we had to sum up our Chiang Mai experience in three words, they would be: punks and monks. Will's cousin Sophie has been living in Chiang Mai for the past two years, where she owns a very cool punk bar/tattoo parlor called 'Chaos City'. Sophie, who speaks fluent Thai and has fully absorbed herself in the Thai culture, helped us see a side of Thailand that we would never otherwise have seen: hidden noodle shops, peaceful lakes and countryside off-the-beaten path, locals’ restaurants, and under-the-bridge whiskey bars.

Biker Boy and His Biker Babe

For our initial tours, Sophie would squeeze us onto the back of her motorbike, with her pink mohawk flying in the wind while we clutched plastic bags full of Thai tea in our hands and hung on for dear life. After a few days we decided to brave Thai traffic on our own, and spent the next couple weeks zipping around on our own motor bike (for $1.50 a day!) around town, into the countryside, and up to mountain-top temples. Aside from a couple of impromptu Evel Knieval impersonations, having a bike really opened up the country to us. Will once took a spill on the motorbike and ripped open his foot, and a nearby gas station attendant knelt at Will’s feet and cleaned up all the blood with bare hands. We’ve since filed that under "things you would never see in the US," and consider it to be only one of the many examples we witnessed of the selfless, innocent nature of the Thai people.

The Punk Who Became a Monk

We had a great time hanging out with Sophie, her friends and the regulars at Chaos City — one of whom, named Nasty, was 'drafted' into monkhood while we were there. (All Thai men are expected to serve their time as a monk at some point in their lives, and Nasty was no exception.) While Will talked to Nasty about the ramifications of ditching his leather duds and shaving his mohawk off, Dana went to a nearby wat (temple) for a weekly "monk chat." Monk Chat is a quid pro quo discussion that allows Westerners to discuss Buddhism and monkhood with a monk , who in turn gets to practice his English. We are now happy to report that we have added two monks to our newsletter mailing list. (Who knew that monks have e-mail?!)

Guest House Living

We ended up getting quickly sucked into life in Chiang Mai thanks to the great company of Sophie, and the extreme livability of Chiang Mai. We quickly made ourselves comfortable at our home-away-from-home, a guest house called the 'Golden Fern,' which is run by a young British couple who recently dropped their backpacks in Chiang Mai and decided to buy a guest house. The Golden Fern had an open-air lobby full of comfortable couches, ESPN, cold beers on the honor system, the best cheeseburgers we've ever eaten, and plenty of great company from all over the world. Will had a good (yet ultimately depressing) time watching the America's Cup finals with the local Kiwis & Swiss; though things got a bit rowdy with the honor-system Singhas. The Golden fern had the BBC on the TV, which was on most hours as we all tried to adjust our itineraries to the rapidly escalating world events. Our vision of tuning out for a year never did materialize, and we find, sadly and necessarily, that we are more abreast of current events than we ever were at home.

Flower Festival

We were lucky enough to be in Chiang Mai for the annual Flower Festival — three days of parades, flower-covered floats, exotic food stalls, concerts, beauty pageants, and garden exhibits. We watched elegant, delicate Thai women in exquisite and colorful traditional silk dresses, robes, and hairstyles parade for miles in high heels in 100 degree heat without a drop of sweat showing on their painted, white faces. The porcelain princesses were followed by tiny Thai boys and girls two-stepping to "Like a Rhinestone Cowboy" in cowboy boots and rodeo getups. We watched toddling toddlers in sleek formation twirling hand-painted umbrellas (who moments later would twirl themselves in circles in their own private parades, plopping down on the hot pavement when they got tired). The event was surreal, comical, beautiful and unforgettable.

What’s Cookin’, Good Lookin’?

We loved the Thai food so much that we decided to take a Thai cooking course. For three days we toured the local markets to learn about ingredients like palm sugar, kaffir lime leaves and "rat-shit" chile peppers. We learned to make curries, papaya salads, banana cakes, smoked and steamed fish dishes, Thai stir-fries, and coconut milk soups, all the while being reminded by our instructors: "Don't forget the smile!" — the most important ingredient in any Thai dish. We're planning to practice our new Thai cooking skills on everyone at home, so get your chopsticks ready!

— Quotes: —

"George Bush, bang bang!" — A Thai hotel owner upon seeing our U.S. passports.

"Gorgeous Chaos" — Danny Clement's description of the streets of Thailand.

"No....don't!!!" — Paula, warning Dana (too late) not to put a tiny green chili pepper in her mouth and proceed to chew it like it was candy. (We happened to be in a sangthaew at the time, where the only liquid to guzzle happened to be Danny's 7-11 roadies; it took 3 of them to dull the pain.)

"See you in the morning!" — a Western man to his friends, while getting into a tuk-tuk with a young Thai girl. This was not an uncommon sight, but always sickening.

"I can't believe I just walked down the street shoulder to shoulder with a monk!"
— Dana, on our first day in Thailand

"That was a real punch in the gut, eh?"
— A fellow Canadian traveler to Dana, upon seeing a young Thai boy sporting an Osama Bin Laden T-shirt, the back of which was a celebratory depiction of the World Trade Centers up in flames, with a commemorative 'September 11, 2001' in block letters below.

"I came to stay here for one week and ended up staying five months."
— An American we met on the Golden Fern couches, describing the huge sucking sound that the Golden Fern lobby makes.



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