We moved back to Thailand! Back to another unfamiliar language, drinking Chang beers, and using Baht all over again. It’s pretty cool to go to another foreign country and not have to deal with the culture shock. It took a bit of time to remember how everything works here but we were able to blend right in pretty easily.
We flew in from Hanoi after making a stop in Bangkok. A very quick and easy couple of flights, my favourite! We landed in Chiang Mai and had a wave of heat slapped us in the face. After spending time in chilly Sapa and keeping warm in blankets, 35 degree weather was a bit of a shock to the system. The first thing I noticed about Thailand was how quiet the traffic is, I remember walking to our place and saying to Dustin: “why isn’t anyone honking?”. There are far more cars than motorbikes here which could explain why, they all just casually and quietly pass each other and turn corners like it’s nothing. So weird.
I had no idea what to expect in Chiang Mai but I ended up really loving it. We heard from a few travellers that it was a nice place, but I’ve learned that people coming from all over the world have vastly different definitions of “nice”. It felt very Western though; well developed roads, buildings and a nice shopping mall where we spent a lot of time cooling down in the AC and indulging in the local food court (cheap and delicious!). Also when I say Western I just mean North American/European not like, cowboys and saloons Western. When a place feels western to me it just reminds me of home, and usually that means big, clean shopping malls with endless clothing stores. From what I’ve noticed the Eastern equivalent to Western style malls are just their big markets. All outdoors and generally jam-packed with people, products and weird smells.
We spent about a week taking it easy and trying to beat the heat. When it’s particularly hot out, we wake up fairly early, around 8am, do our morning thing and have peanut butter and bread then go out for a bit until it gets too hot at noon. Then we stay in and lay around and read with a fan blowing on us. It’s crazy how heat like this really can drain my energy, everything feels a bit slower than normal and the wind is so hot it feels like you’re getting into your car that’s been sitting in the sun for hours. Once the sun goes down then we can venture out and find some dinner. The music scene in Chiang Mai was surprisingly active. We went to a venue called the North Gate Jazz Co. numerous times because the musicians they had there were unreal. It was a great spot to meet some other travellers and just hang out in an energetic atmosphere; something we hadn’t been around for a while.
To change things up we contacted a home stay, called Watchara Farm, just outside of the city. They offer meals, cheap accommodations, and meditation exercises in exchange for a few hours a day of helping around the farm. It was great! We stayed for 6 days and it was worth the long, crammed truck ride to get there. The land is owned by Watchara and his wife, and they have an energetic nine year old daughter as well named Phone.
There was no power at the farm so I decided to pack away my phone for the week and go full camping mode. Everything they cooked for us was organic and vegetarian, made from veggies they either grow themselves or get from the small market in the village. He had our schedule generally run like this:
7am: wake up and meet at the common area to begin the walking meditation.
7am – 7:45am : walking meditation and chanting for the Buddha.
8am : Breakfast, usually rice/egg/garlic or rice and veggies with coffee or tea.
9am : Work begins, the first couple days we mixed concrete and tied rebar at the temple to help build a sidewalk, the last few we turned up some soil and mixed in compost for planting some eggplant.
Noon : stop work and head back for lunch, more rice and veggies.
1pm – 5pm : hang out, stay cool, read, do whatever you want.
5pm : the sun’s down so everything gets watered: eggplants, tomatoes, cabbage, etc.
6:30pm : dinner, more rice and veggies! Phone would often get us to make popped rice patties. A very delicious treat.
8pm: everyone gathers around the fire, hang out and chat and keep warm.
8:30pm : sitting meditation starts, back towards the fire.
9pm : day’s done, do what you want. Sit and watch the stars and keep each other company.
There were a couple girls who stayed with us as well, Justine and Nina from France, and they were great company to have. It’s strange meeting new people under such unique conditions but that’s what makes it so special and memorable. We taught them our favourite card game Shithead (they were hooked) and I gave my extra headphones to Nina, they were taking up too much space in my bag. I often have to ditch various things I left Canada with that are no longer necessary to keep around. Normally I just leave them in our room or find a backpacker exchange (found in a lot of hostels), but it’s very rewarding to be able directly donate something to another traveller who needs it! This way I know for sure it’ll be used and not thrown in the trash.
I loved Watchara’s farm. I spent so much time reading, listening to all the sounds of the jungle, and eating the sweetest and most fresh bananas I’ve ever had. My head felt very clear from all the meditating and my guts were happy from all the fresh, organic food. He got us to paint a decorative sign to add to the many he’s collecting on the trees on his farm. We didn’t know what else to write except “It’s a sign”, so if you ever visit Watchara’s farm, the most on-the-nose sign is ours.
We made our way back to Chiang Mai after our time on the farm. I’m sure we would have stayed longer if the Songkran Festival hadn’t come up. We left a day before the festival started as to avoid the crazy traffic we heard would occur, and we had also seen signs that they call that week “the week of death” from drunk drivers and just general carelessness. The Songkran Festival is a celebration of the Buddhist new year and for three days the whole city (in fact, the whole country) erupts into a giant water fight in the streets. The spraying of water resembles the act of blessing someone with water that monks do in temples or other festivals, so from the outside it looks like a typical water fight but you often hear people saying “thank you!” after being soaked with water. For the local Thai people it was a family affair, dozens of people in the back of trucks with massive oil drum sized pails of water drove around the city splashing anyone who passed by. Along the streets were shop owners filling up kiddy pools with water with a hose and offering small buckets for anyone to come around and use as they pleased. For locals and tourists alike, it’s an opportunity to party your face off, run around the city with water guns and dance in the streets with hundreds of people from around the world. We had such a fun time, we were in the thick of it with a couple of buckets we bought for a dollar and walked around for hours soaking people and being the soakees. The weather reached up to 40 degrees that week so what’s a better way to stay cool than to be dripping wet all the time? We learned to be wary of the locals with buckets of water, because they often put ice in it! No one would throw ice of course, but they would sneak up behind you and pour it on the back of your neck and give you quite a shock. One of the best places to party was outside of this one monastery we found that seemed to be the hot spot for the gay community. They had a wild live band blasting music into the streets and multiple times dozens of people would flock into the street and dance their hearts out, often in sync.
It’s really hard to describe how crazy this festival was; pictures and videos do no justice. It’s really something to experience yourself, so if you’re ever travelling to Thailand in April, be sure to stick around for Songkran.
Once that madness was over we stayed in Chiang Mai for another week or so and took it easy. The room we got was surprisingly nice and big, it was refreshing to pretend I was in a tiny apartment for a bit. It even had a table and a couple chairs by a window! Having somewhere else to sit that’s not the bed is just such a great thing. I don’t know I’m deprived of something until I unexpectedly have it again, and it sticks in my memory as such a pleasant thing after being so briefly enjoyed. A table and chairs, who would have thought.
We took a cooking class where we were driven out to a farm after a brief tour of the local market, and then we were guided in cooking up a choice out of a range of dishes. I made cashew chicken stir fry, massaman paste and curry, coconut chicken soup, and spring rolls. Dustin made pad thai, panang paste and curry, and a hot and creamy soup. We all got to eat what we made, but after the first meal I was full but I was able to take home leftovers and actually acquired an extra soup from someone else who was too full. That’s another thing I forgot I missed, leftovers! What a fabulous thing. Not having to go out and just needing a microwave to make a meal that you already know is delicious. Just wonderful.
One day we rented a motorbike and checked out Wat Phra Doi Suthep, an historic temple built in the 1300’s on a mountain outside of the city. It was quite beautiful and secluded with an impressive staircase leading up to it.
A few days ago we took a bus to Chiang Rai to wait out the rest of our visa. This small city looks like it’s the furthest north you can go in Thailand! It’s very quiet here, and I’ve also been enjoying the place we’re at. The common area has a small kitchen where we can make tea and toast. I’ve already written at length about how much I like tea, but using a toaster (specifically eating peanut butter toast) is another grand pleasure I have been unknowingly removed from.
Chiang Rai has many temples (as a lot of cities also do) but the ones around here are next level. The Black House is more of an art instalment than an actual temple but it’s architecture is still pretty traditional. There are many images of death in and around the buildings; bear and snake skins, elephant bones, and dark paintings.
A few kilometres south of Chiang Rai is the White Temple, it’s only about 20 years old and serves partially as an actual temple but is also more of an art exhibit. I remember when I was searching up things to do in Thailand back in 2016 the one place I wanted to make sure we would see was this White Temple. It was very rewarding to finally see this place that I was excited about for so long! It did not disappoint.
That’s about it for the month of April, tune in next month where I’ll probably talk about what happened in May.