Travel Blog: Week 34
01.07.2013 – 07.07.2013
Pinch, punch and all that…..
I woke to the sounds of the street. Something that is familiar to me now. They must be because I usually sleep undisturbed until 9 if not later. My meditation is definitely improving as I can sit peacefully now for a good hour. The thoughts still come but they go again too. My goal is to reach 2 hours a day and I can do it here. At home finding 2 hours to be still isn’t easy.
Last week had been a week of rest, quiet time, thinking, watching movies (mostly on my iPad but I did brave taking a scooter ride to the cinema once – I returned in the dark, pouring rain and only narrowly avoided a very wet elephant trying to cross a 6 lane highway) and massages. I had two back, shoulder and head massages two days apart in an attempt to loosen up the tension I always carry in those areas. The first used hot herbal poultice to soothe the muscles afterwards and the second an oil and tiger balm mix. Both were great and I do feel better for them if not a little sore. Talking of sore, yesterday on the recommendation of Nicole (my travel buddy) I had an abdominal “healing” massage called Chi Nei Tsang. It was very strange and very uncomfortable but I’m hoping it will benefit me in the long run – these things are a bit of an experiment and have to be entered into with an open mind. No pain, no gain – on that basis I’m going to gain big time!!
Coming home from the Sunday night market I got lost, and just when I thought I’d sussed all the streets. At least I know I’m never going to be far from somewhere I do know which is reassuring and allows me to relax and enjoy the detour. Well, I discovered a whole new area. Although it was late, and everything was closed up for the night it looked like it was full of galleries. I also passed a fabulous looking restaurant and made a mental note to find it again in the morning. This is where I would have breakfast slash brunch. And that’s what I did this morning – I jumped on my scooter (not sure I mentioned I rented a scooter for a month) and went in search of my latest discovery. Getting re-lost and retracing your steps isn’t easy and it took me a while to find the place. I did eventually find it and can’t for the life of me work out how I managed to get into this side of town last night. Dillydaydream strikes again. Anyway it was almost noon by the time I sat down but the breakfast menu looked so good I ordered breakfast. Avocado omelette – fear not Nigel it came with a side of fried potatoes (not chips) and bacon.
It was so good and I sat in the friendly chilled courtyard savouring the moment. I was sitting next to a hammock which was soon filled by a Swiss lady who was chilling while her husband had lunch. She was a breathing coach and we spent a good hour talking about her job and putting the world to rights. What an interesting lady. When she left I moved into the now vacant hammock and stayed there for a good few hours catching up on emails and Facebook updates, and sending well overdue responses. I did a bit of reading. It’s just all go, go, go!!!!
Eventually I raised my body, took a little stroll along the street and visited the art galleries, and then jumped back onto my mean machine and headed home. Waew, my land lady, greeted me and asked a few questions about how long I would stay. I assumed she wanted to know how long I wanted the room, but she came clean and asked if I was interested in running a guest house here and making some money!!!! Bam – hadn’t seen that coming or given such a venture any thought. Maybe I should??? I put my feet up for the afternoon, after all it had been an exhausting day so far. Did more meditation, and watched an episode of Sherlock (the new ish one) that I’d downloaded and contemplated whether I wanted to stay here longer. Chiang Mai now was lovely, but in he height of the season and in the heat. Ummmmm, not sure!
Before I knew it it was dark and getting late. I was having another abdominal massage in the morning and was supposed to eat something lite. I decided to have my usual at the corner street restaurant as I knew it would be lite ish and would be quick. The low table was packed and I took my place opposite a British guy who now lived in Australia – Adam. A really interesting guy who lead weekly outdoor pursuits for teenagers on the east coast. He was a rock climber and ex scuba instructor. Just my kind of guy! We compared the dishes we’d ordered and he admitted his food envy – mine was by far the best choice. A good hour passed before we said our goodbyes. He headed for the pub and my intention was to head home. It wasn’t until I’d started walking that I realised how full I was. No way was I going back to the room feeling like this. I took out my scooter for a burn around town and then, still feeling full, a walk. The highlight of the evening was finding a slightly squashed but in tact scorpion on the road. My first sighting since I’d got here and thankfully a harmless one.
Time for bed. A relatively early night as I needed to get going quicker in the morning. Irritatingly I couldn’t sleep until I’d read for a while.
I set by alarm this morning. I think it’s a first that I’ve needed to for a 10:15 appointment! This is early for me now. In my defence I did do an hours meditation before I went out. I took a deep breath and physiqued myself up for my second Chi Nei Tsang massage. The first had been painful and had left me very tender but I was determined to persevere with this treatment.
The second appointment wasn’t quite so painful but there certainly was a lot of discomfort. The pressure points causing a reaction in other parts of the body – mostly lower back again. The area around my navel was still sore from the last session and so deep breathing was required to get through thiatbit. The strangest sensation – almost like warm liquid had been poured over the top of my leg. For one horrible moment I thought I had wet myself. I found out afterwards that many people get this sensation and have the same fear. However, this I was told, was a really good sign that my energies were being released to flow. It was explained to me as …..imagine watering the garden with a hose that has a kink in it. Some water comes out but it really flows once the hose has been untwisted. This is what Om, my therapist, was doing for me. I got through the hour and Om was really pleased with the results. I have to say I felt fantastic. I would have to wait for 2 weeks for appointment three – Om had a fortnights refresher training in Switzerland, coincidently where the lady I met yesterday had trained. Small world!!
I was really hungry by now . My instructions were to have something lite and warm. I went to Blue Diamond where I knew they did pumpkin soup ( I thought the perfect solution) and it would be served quickly. It filled a gap and subdued my hunger long enough for me to go in search of other restaurants suggested by Om and one of her other clients. I found ‘Beetroot Stories’ which was fantastic.
I met John who was sitting at the table next to mine. He’d been passing through Chiang Mai 7 years ago and never left. He had a meeting to go to but asked for my number – “maybe we could meet up for a drink”! The food was amazing and I chatted to the owner who truly was excited about Beetroot – she came over to show me the beauty of the colours within a Beetroot she’d just cut open. Bless her. We chatted I while before I left in search dessert. I passed an icecream shop and decided after all that good stuff I should treat myself. I went for 2 scoops, as the scoops are always weenie. I was wrong. Whilst being distracted by the cutest little kitten a mountain of icecream was loaded into a cone. Oh my Buddha!!!! It was too much even for me and the heat of the day meant it started to drip almost immediately. I just couldn’t keep up so I dumped the top scoop in the nearest bin and set to trying to eat the rest before it completely engulfed my hand. I was losing this battle despite grabbing serviettes from the outside restaurant tables along the street. By the way the serviettes, tissues and any similar products out here are so thin that they just disintegrate as soon as you touch them – so I got through a few. I was beaten and dumped the soggy remains of by icecream. You live and learn. I’m sticking to the much more reliable magnum in the future.
A quick trip to the market for fruit and then an afternoon in the room which turned out to be a snooze. I just can’t do early mornings.
John called me that evening and we arranged to meet at eight. We met at the restaurant where we first met earlier today and then went on to a different place to eat. I offered a few menu choices but the menu was overwhelmingly big and good that I left John to make the final decisions. It was all good food and the conversation flowed, including a few comments about the table of ladyboys in ten restaurant. We found somewhere else for a drink and chatted more until the bar closed and we were kindly evicted. We said our goodbyes and agreed to meet again at some point in the future. John had paid for tonight’s meal and so I needed to return the favour. I declined a lift home as it was only a few blocks away and I wanted a walk in the warm, breezy evening. As I walked home I passed the most happening area of town and could resist a closer look as “Bonkers” (my Olympic theme tune) was blasting out from one of he bars. I bumped into David who Nicole and I had met weeks before there. His name turned out to be Taywin, not David!!!!!, and I ended up spending the next few hours with him talking, dancing, and meeting his friends – he had a lot. He’s a Muay Thai expert and agreed to train me. We’ll see how that turns out but we did arrange to go to one of the out of town temples I’d been meaning to see. I just had to call him the next day to arrange a time.
It was now 2am and I headed home to call it a day.
I made it out for breakfast about 12 – I so love this easy, relaxed lifestyle and I want to savour it while I can. French toast, fruit, yoghurt, honey, sunshine and friendly people – how’s that for a breakfast platter!!
As promised I called Taywin and we agreed to meet in about an hour. As we were going to the temple in the hills outside the town it was better for me to get over to his Muay Thai gym. Yikes – I had no idea where to go and the language difference between us for directions, coupled with a poor phone line, didn’t help. It was no good, I’d just have to look at a map.
I was pretty proud of myself finding the right road and not only that negotiating the one way system to double back for fuel. The petrol stations look like those at home, give or take, but I wasn’t sure how to work the pumps. The instructions were in Thai. Thankfully they still have good old fashioned pump attendants and a little girl helped me out. Aaahhhh, you have to pre set the amount you want. That is different from home but I know they use this system in the states. I put in 60THB which would be more than enough to get me around today. Now to pull back out into the traffic which I did with ease only for the bike to cut out on me. I found my way fairly well but in the end asked someone for directions. Bless him, he was so helpful and said “follow me”. I was actually quite close to the right area but the gym was tucked away and I just couldn’t find it. I called Taywin but couldn’t explain where I was. “I’m by a seven eleven” just doesn’t help – there are hundreds. I asked the help of a passer byer who took over my phone and spoke with Taywin. Thank goodness for helpful people. Taywin found me and we rode back to the gym.
It was all outdoor and there were loads of locals and tourists sparring. We took my bike and headed up into the hills. The road was like that into Pai, with twists and turns. We stopped half way up to see the view over Chiang Mai – the tree lined moat/wall boundary of the old town standing out amongst the jumble of buildings.
I was riding pillion and so got to look around at he views. We made it to the top and walked the steps to the top, passing craft stalls and stalls selling lotus flowers and candles for Buddha. It was 30THB to get I’m, which is nothing and helps with all the renovation work that’s going on. We bought flowers and candles, left our shoes at the temple threshold and went in. It’s customary to walk three times around the stupa before giving thanks to Buddha. There is something so charming about the way the Thai people worship. It is so genuine and comfortable. There’s no big show they just get on with it and then get on with their day. We timed it just right to visit the monk too. I was blessed with water and given a thread bracelet. In Thailand these bracelets are while, in complete contrast to the red one i was given in Cambodia. We walked around the temple and just as we were to leave the heavens opened and it poured, and poured and poured. We just took shelter, chatted about Thailand, and watched the world go by. At last the clouds parted and the sun shone through again and we took outer chances pegging in down the steps and back to the scooter.
It was down all the way, and steep down. With nice wet greasy roads. We took it very steady, being overtaken by cyclists from time to time. This time of evening with cyclists and runners and bless ’em most were slogging it up hill! Back in the town and out to dinner. We stopped off at a huge modern cafe and had some fabulous rice and meat dish – don’t ask me what as I have no idea. The menu was all in Thai (which Taywin could understand) so I just went by the pictures. I was not allowed to pay. the first dinner must be paid for by the man otherwise he is seen as being a women, and they can’t have that! Taywin swapped scooters and I followed him back into the old town where he waved me off when I got to my place. After a quick turnaround I was out again and sat in the bar for a couple of hours with him. He took me for a spin around town in the warm evening during his break (did I mention he worked in a bar at night) and dropped me off before going back to work.
Late morning again. A good meditation session and a hearty breakfast at the corner bakery.
I made it to Taywins by about 1. Today he was getting another tattoo and was going along to watch, and …….you never know. It was quite a journey and it ended right out in the sticks through twisting roads and very Thai village houses. Up some wooden steps and into one of Taywin’s friend’s traditional wooden home. Cats everywhere. We sat on the floor on a mat as there was no furniture. I watched in awe as this old craftsman went to work with the old fashioned bamboo technique. It all looked very random and the ink was everywhere obscuring the work. It was all done without 10 minutes and after a quick wipe with a cloth the full detail of the design was revealed. He must have carried the image in his mind as he could not possibly have seen through all that ink. It was a masterpiece. I found a few designs I like and whilst I was still umming and arhing Taywin went ahead and got Lulu tattooed on his hand. He is MAD!!!! The artist, because that’s what he was, finished and then chanted a special blessing, blowing across Taywin’s back several times. It really was a true insight to the Thai traditions and I felt very honoured to be allowed to observe.
Anyway, after all I’d seen I went for it. Opportunities like this don’t come along very often and if I was going to get a tattoo in Chiang Mai, my temporary home, this was the best it was going to get. From his many books I pointed to the kind of thing I wanted and he then drew something out for me on paper. It was perfect. Here we go! With my hands together like a prayer I presented my money – 100THB. Can you believe it, that like 2 quid. I sat cross legged on the floor in front of this gentle man and bowed my head. It was quite painful but easily handled. After all I’d knelt chatting for 40 minutes in the monastery only a few weeks before and knew about mind over matter. It was done in maybe 5 minutes. Some special oil was rubbed over my ink work and I too was given the blessing which took almost as long as the tattoo. This was a moment to lock away in my memory forever.
Back on the bike and back to the Muay Thai gym to watch the training. There were a few tourists there attending their first day. They looked knackered, sweaty and happy and tried to get me to join in. Another day……maybe.
Dinner was my treat tonight, and it really was a treat. We went to a little restaurant for a Thai BBQ. The table was set with a burner and a kind of skillet in a bowl. The plate heated up and you cooked the meat, veggies, tofu, fish etc on the top with the bowl holding the liquid which became a very tasty soup. I absolutely loved this. It was such fun and the food was amazing. You had to be brave choosing your own ingredients (I avoided one of the dishes of raw meat when a saw a fly crawl out) but hey, when in Rome!!! I ate way too much but it was soooo good. I loved the charging structure too. It was a Buffett at a set price but to avoid people taking too much and leaving food they charge you extra for your leftovers. Clever huh!
I wanted to stay in tonight so just went back to my place. Grrrr – I got lost again tonight and drove around for 20 minutes until I found somewhere I recognised. I don’t mind, but get a little twitchy when the gas is totally on empty. Lovely to relax in my own room. I couldn’t work in a bar until 2:30 every night!!! Nite nite.
The usual leisurely morning. I wanted to have breakfast at the Good Morning cafe again. I jumped on the bike – first things first. Fuel! The needle was almost off the empty but I knew I’d have enough to get to the gas station. Well, that’s assuming I took a direct route. I didn’t. I could find the right exit to get across the other side of the moat and when I eventually did the traffic was so heavy I couldn’t get back across the lanes to pull into the station. I went a very long way around but the bike survived on fumes and got me there. I filled up and sped off to the restaurant. I arrived via the scenic route, again! Just when I thought I knew this place my bearings seem to go AWOL.
Breakfast was, once again, divine and I loved the peace of the outdoor restaurant coupled with the faint chatterings of the others in the garden. I stayed quite a while again and then did more wandering around that area. The rest of the day zipped by with a combination of relaxing and doing very little! Just as well as the weather was pants.
Taywin picked me up around 8:00 and we went into town to grab some food before an evening of Muay Thai boxing. We had street food and I couldn’t resist a magnum – it had been so long. Taywin is well known in the Muay Thai world within Chiang Mai but also internationally. I almost felt like a minor celeb. We were waved through the entrance on a freebie, and took our places in the stands. Prime viewing position. The fighting was amazing. There were 6 fights of different weight categories including one traditional boxing match and one with a international fighter from Sweden. There was also a choreographed display fight which took us through the various disciplines and moves. The first fight seemed to be between young boys, they were so small and skinny. Wow, they could fight through. I’m so impressed and horrified by the force of the fighting. The looser often being carried off barely conscious. There was also a fight between the big (fat) guys. Much slower moves but almost as supple. Overall it was a top evening. Most of the time I sat alone as Taywin helped the fighters prep their hands and gloves, and when he was with me he was shouting guidance to the fighters. He was also visited by the fighters who’d already had their bouts and wanted to have his feedback. He has much respect and it all added to my fabulous evening.
We left the “stadium” and went to the Hollywood bar for Taywin’s shift. A much busier night which mre interest in the hookah, and much more dancing. There was a party night at the bar and i helped hand out the fliers – drunks are a tough audience. I had no idea. The bars are in a run down corner of the town. The roads are full of pot holes and there are bikes and cars everywhere. Not a good combination when you add drunk people into the mix. Someone got nudged by a car and the ambulance was called to take care of them. They might be a bit sore in the morning. Then, just like that, the weather tap was turned to full. It bucket ted down and stayed like that for the rest of the night. The canopies over the bars filled quickly with water and it was a constant battle to empty them. The rain helped fill the bar as people took shelter but also provided entertainment for those wanted to dance in the rain and jump puddles.
At 2:30 the bar began to close. No mean feat when it meant chucking people out into the rain. Eventually we left and made a dash for the scooter and them home. It was still pouring, like proper monsoon, and the last thing you need is a flat – right? Yup, the rear tyre was as a pancake. Change of plan. We left the bike at the bar and Taywin took mine home. Insurance doesn’t seem to mean anything here which actually gives you much more freedom. Covered in my rain poncho Taywin headed of into the rain and home.
The late night meant an even longer lie in. I woke around 10 to the sound of knocking at my door. Waew was beside herself that the bike had been stolen. I explained what happened, reassured her all was well and apologied. Back to bed for a while longer. Then meditation, shower and out. I didn’t even bother to call it brunch. By now it was definitely lunch. I grabbed a mango smoothie and then met Taywin for noodle soup.
Today we went to look at his bike at the garage. He’d been in an accident a month ago and the bike needed a new front. He still had problems with his knee, following the accident but more worryingly could not feel much of the right side of his face. Anyway, it was a fair way and when we got there the bike was ready for collection but they couldn’t find the key.
Never mind it would keep for another day. We spent to the market. A second hand market where I bought a couple of great t-shirts and a pair of trainers. Before you’re too grossed out at the thought of second hand trainers, they were new looking sketchers which cost me £2. I’d have my own socks!!!
Taywin bought me a buddist amulet to keep me safe. It was a small sealed glass vile which contained a tiny piece of rolled up tiger skin with sacred writing on. I accepted it with very mixed emotions; a lovely token but not so great for the tiger. What do you do in these situation??? The only slight consolation is that these items are ancient so it’s not current bad practice!
Back to Taywin’s place for him to train his students, and for me to meditate. He even washed my new t-shirts and scrubbedmy new trainers – bless this man!! I took a walk around the block which happened to be a small produce market so I bought fruit and browsed. The people are so friendly if you just attempt to engage.
We went out for food. Some delicious chicken and rice combo which came with a bowl of clear soup which you share and dip into throughout the meal. It’s so interesting being with a local and really scratching away at the surface. Taywin had work but I went back to the room for a few hours before facing the Hip Hop party night. In the end I didn’t make it but stayed in. Bliss!
Taywin had my bike to get home last night so he picked me up and we went out for lunch. Breakfast is becoming more and more a thing of the past. Something I want to address as I really want to start running in the mornings. He took me to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere for Khao Soi which is fast becoming my favourite dish. I think the literal translation is something like street chicken.
It was fabulous and came with all the extras – crispy fried something’s and pickled something else. I don’t care I love it. I also got to try a dessert. Some green and white sweet noodles and fruit in a coconut milk. It was good but I had a hard time overcoming my ingrained reluctant to drink milk. Something that stemmed back to childhood and is mentally an even bigger hurdle than it was when I had the awful experience when I was a kid. We drove back to the gym for Taywin’s training session – two young girls wanting to get into Muay Thai. I even managed some skipping – you know the proper boxer style skipping which looks exceptionally cool (when the experts do it!!!)
Taywin dropped me back at my place before he headed to work briefly. I did a quick change then we grabbed some food at the Sunday market before heading out of town to a concert.
Yep, I was going to a concert to see Thailand’s number 1 rock group – Carabao. It was a strange experience. I met a tonne of Taywin’s friends and had photos with them all. The music was actually pretty good. A bit like U2. I understood none of the words so it was very surreal to be surrounded by hundreds of Thais singing along. They were all having a great time but behaving. No obsessive drunkeness or fighting. They are very respectful people (most of the time). It didn’t strike me until most of the way through what a great view of the stage and band I had. Then it dawned on me. I was taller than most of the rest of the audience!!