● For full details on our route, transport info, hotel details, etc, look at our Google Maps page

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Chiang Mai

6th November – 15th November

Arriving after dark, we hopped in a sangthelew with some other people from the bus, and on their advice headed t
o a hostel called “Kim House” The driver drove around and around “looking” for hostel, giving us a free tour (well, we assume he wasn’t expecting a tip!) of the vibrant night bazaar to boot!

The following day we saw the friends that we had met at the Thai border and moved to the place they were staying at, the Sripoom 2. For 200 baht, we got an ensuite room with hot shower, fridge, television and a huge bed with crisp, clean cotton sheets and…best still, fluffy Tesco towels… real luxury on a shoestring! If you are in Chiang Mai, you could do far worse than staying here.

A day of research into Thai Massage courses beckoned, and after a shaky start at the large ITM school and one freaked out Ady (was it the free fruit, or just way too many wheatgrass swilling, “spiritual” types studying), we settled for a much smaller operation, run by the mother of the guest house owner of Sripoom 2! Our teacher was to be Joy and she would teach us privately for the whole week.

We spent the rest of the day checking out the sights in and around Chiang Mai. The city is home to more than 300 temples; we visited several of the better known, until temple fatigue set in and the temples all began to look the same. Having said that, two of the temples stood out from the rest. Wat U Mong; a picturesque forest temple on the outskirts of town features a series of brick-lined underground tunnels built into the hillside. The tunnels date back to 1380 and are still open for viewing by the public. Wat Suan Dok contains an impressive 500 year old bronze Buddha image and is well known for it’s scenic sunsets. Arriving shortly before dusk we bumped into our friends Lucy and Rene and had the opportunity to speak with a number of the novice monks studying at the monastic university.

We’d already hired a scooter for our week in Chiang Mai and took time over the weekend to escape the smog and ride into the surrounding countryside. Inevitably, we happened upon and sp
ent more time at another couple of temples, including the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of the north’s most sacred temples. Carefully constructed upon the Doi (meaning hill) Suthep, expansive views can be seen of the valley below and the temple is famous for watching the sunset. We continued the road north and climbed the Doi Pui peak for more panoramic vistas, before attempting and failing miserably to find the Hmong hill tribe village.

Massage Course

Monday morning came around swiftly and we began our intense 5 day, 30 hour course; Foundation of Thai Massage. Our teacher Joy has had over 1300 hours of teaching experience. We were looking forward to learning from her, as well as the added bonus of receiving a weeks worth of massage ourselves. The level 1 course involves a set sequence of 50 positions and we worked our way through the postures for the first three days, receiving the massage from Joy first of all and then practicing on each other and finally Joy to perfect our technique. It was quite amazing to learn the techniques and surprising how just a little pressure, applied in the right way on the correct pressure point could bring tears to the eyes, and of course promote relaxation and healing!?!?!

Towards the end of the week, Joy had successfully sniffed out each of our Achilles heels and set to work giving us “extras”! Lets just say the eastern approach to treating years of muscle build up (in our case, overly-strung hamstrings and tight shoulders) is very different to the softly, softly practice one would
experience at an Osteopath or Physio, and of course a tenth the price! The degree of pain felt (Sam speaking here…I’m sure Ady would put a braver face on it!) was unlike anything ever endured before, by choice…the kind of unrelenting pain (for once Joy got those elbows in…) that makes you want to throw up and pass out all at the same time! Personally I blame years sitting behind a desk…

Anyway, after a week of pummelling and prodding and the many bruises had come up black and blue we were declared proficient in the art of Thai massage, in theory, to the point where we could officially charge clients for our services!! Form an orderly line please!

Loi Krathong

During our week in Chiang Mai we were fortunate enough to witness the annual festival of Loi Krathong, a beautiful festival where on the night of the November full moon, small lotus-shaped boats made of banana leaves and containing a lit candle are set adrift on the river. The festival has grown in recent times and some say the real meaning lost with the festivities carrying on all week in order to generate bigger profits. Huge numbers of fireworks and firecrackers were thrown into (or simply in the general direction of) the river, or by bored youths at one other (and passing tourists) in the street. Scary stuff!

More peacefully (though not very green), thousands of paper lanterns are lit and set up into the night sky, burning brightly and gaining height as the air inside the lantern heats and expands…that is until the oil burner extinguishes and the whole thing falls back to earth. Mostly the blackened, burnt-out lanterns simple fall into the street or litter somebody’s back yard, but worse still, they sometimes set fire to obstructing trees or rooftops! The festival culminated in a procession of flamboyantly decorated floats, crowned with the towns young beauties. Both of us have a fairly short attention span when it comes to this sort of thing – on this occasion however, overhead electricity cables hanging too low at street level became entangled in many a float as they passed us by, forcing the floats to carry out an emergency stop! Amusing for us to watch, but less so for the poor participants…

Having spent an exhausting week in Thailand’s northern capital (and perhaps the longest blog post to date!) we were looking forward to travelling further north and onto Pai, a former hippy enclave from the 1970’s and supposedly a great place to chill out in the mountains.

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