Available for a reasonable price at Chiang Mai airport.
Continuing from the last post, we moved across Old Chiang Mai to Chieu’s guesthouse in a very nice ute that his boss had lent him. After bumping around the place in tuk-tuks, we felt akin to royalty with the air conditioning of full blast and tinted windows to gaze out of. The ‘Tip Guesthouse’ is right next to a Wat, which was fairly quiet as there was construction of a new building going on in its grounds, so we didn’t hear early morning chanting or the crowing of competing roosters who can’t tell the time to save themselves. The chickens in Asia look rather different to ours – sort of streamlined models up on stilts, probably so designed as to keep out of the way of snakes. They make ours look like contenders for the Weight Watchers programme.
Ursula and I had lunch at the Sweet Love Cafe, which was all done up in pink with a few cutesy things sitting around, across the road from a couple of mansions. We certainly had gone up in the world. Then she went up to visit a hillside wat and Phil and I wandered off to the Siam Insect Museum and Zoo, being the only nutters for miles around that are interested and bugs and the like, it seemed. This was quite a way out of town and we swallowed a lot of carbon monoxide along the way – or at least Phil did. I was able to wear a scarf that I could wrap across my face, so it wasn’t quite so bad for me. We really enjoyed the bug place, although we found that due to scratchy glass cases and low light it wasn’t the best of conditions for photography. The highlight for me was holding a moderate-sized large scorpion in my hand. It was about half the size of my fist and a handsome glossy black. It felt surprisingly peaceful actually – until the darned thing moved sidewards. But the assistant assured me it was still calm and happy, so I didn’t drop it and run for the hills, although my insides screamed at me to do so. The tarantulas were cool – different shades of brown, cream and chocolate, and furry in a vaguely cuddly sort of a way. We weren’t allowed to play with them though, sadly. The assistant took us through the place, showing us caterpillars (held a big fat one with huge eyes drawn on its front), millipedes (Phil held onto one which crawled all over his hand – I like things that stay still, so I happily eschewed that dubious opportunity), centipedes that could probably kill you with one look, funky huge stick insects, larvae of various critters and the cricket kitchen – A.K.A. the tarantula larder. We wandered through the butterfly garden as well, but the darn things are really hard to photograph as they won’t keep still long enough for the camera to focus. So we entertained ourselves trying to get good shots of a large spider which had a pattern on it that looked like silver filigree that was eating a butterfly. I was enjoying this until it got a fright and dropped to the ground somewhere behind me…
So back to Chieu’s guesthouse, where he was preparing kebabs for a barbeque for us and his German girlfriend who had just arrived back in town. He heated up a bunch of charcoal bricks over a couple of gas rings, then tossed them into a pit on legs, over which a grill was placed and the barbequing commenced. Plate after plate of delicious kebabs were placed in front of us while we chatted with Grit (his girlfriend), Alex the German guy, Phil from England. and a Dutch guy who’s name I forget, who is a kick boxer and has the occasional fight locally. They hand out a lot of flyers for Muay Thai Kick Boxing here, and this Dutch guy was surprised to find himself pictured on one of the flyers. He had to quickly check with his trainer to see if he had a fight that he didn’t know was scheduled, but it turned out they were just recycling the photos from last year.
Chieu is a bit of a mischief at times, and he found a baby gecko and put it behind Ursula’s ear, telling her it was a beautiful frangipani flower. She posed charmingly while I took a photo or two, then we broke to her… she took it well actually. She’s a good sport. Chieu then put it behind my ear and it stayed there for a good two hours. I could only just feel when it moved, it was so little and light. Apparently it was very happy having a ride on my nice warm head. Hard to beat that for an exotic ear ornament…
Sometime later in the night a soccer game started – Spain versus Portugal. Ursula and I watched with the others, including the Thai staff crew, even though neither of us are sports watchers, but it turned into the never ending game with nobody scoring right up to the end, and each time we got up to go to bed we got talked into watching it a little bit longer as they extended the match. It finally came to conclusion at 4am or so, by which time we were starving again. Chieuw insisted on cooking us fried rice, so we had the earliest breakfast we’ve had on this trip. It was delicious, bless him, but we almost fell asleep in our bowls. Thankfully we were able to sleep in, as Chieuw had organised a 3pm checkout for us, so we had a roof over our heads until it was time to go to the airport. He’s such a kind and generous host, my Thai brother. If any of you are going to Chiang Mai, let me know and I’ll put you in contact with him – he’s very knowledgeable and helpful and loves to meet new people.
At the airport, I got my hip flask of whiskey taken off me by a scary female dragon in a uniform – durn it. I keep forgetting about that liquid rule. I wouldn’t mind so much, but they chuck it in a bin and don’t even drink it themselves, for crying out loud. If I had remembered, I would have left it with Chieu – that way at least it would have been enjoyed. Crying shame that.
The flight from Chiang Mai took an hour, the taxi from the Bangkok Airport to our room on Khao San road took about an hour and a half. Well when I say room, I actually mean cell. Although to be fair, if you placed the luggage in a certain way and tiptoed around, and didn’t expect to fully open the door at any time, there was plenty of room in there, so we really couldn’t complain. And we were fortunate enough to be placed at the front of the building, so that when we lay down on our slabs (forgot to check under the sheets to see if they were made of concrete or not), we could hear almost everything that went on down on Khao San road, thanks to the wonderfully thin walls and high-placed windows.
Khao San road is a funky, offbeat backpackers, market area that has been going years and has hardly changed since I first saw it in 2005. You can have ‘very stong cocktails’ for 100 baht at places where people stand on the street with placards saying ‘We don’t check ID’. You can also save yourself a lot of time and buy a degree in the subject of your choice. Street carts are everywhere selling delicious kebabs or fruit shakes or Pad Thai for 20 – 30 baht, ladyboys – absolutely gorgeous ones – trip about in high heels, flicking the hair of their long wigs back in windswept and interesting ways, and hill tribe women swarm about making croaking noises with wooden frogs which they will try to stuff up your nose at any given opportunity. This all goes on to a background of thumping house music and neon signs. An interesting place and yet sort of tired and cynical around the edges, if you know what I mean.
So that was it for that day. Next stop – Cambodia.