Ah, Chiang Mai. What could you possibly have in store for me here? Right off the bat, I noticed Chiang Mai was filled with small bars, cozy restaurants, outdoor markets, and massage parlors galore! Also, millions of ladyboys! Seriously, so many everywhere! I’d say maybe 50 percent of the Thai women I walked past definitely had very masculine features, for sure dudes. They sat in front of every single bar and massage parlor, staring at me like a piece of meat, asking me and other foreigners if we would like a massage. “Not today!” I have yet to get a massage in Thailand, or in Asia, or anywhere ever in my life!
I booked a stay at a hostel called Sohostel, based on recommendations from other backpackers I met previously. Lucy and I were placed in a dorm room with nine other English backpackers! All around our age, all with different stories, all traveling Southeast Asia. We settled in and made plans to meet with Meg, Si, and Justyne, who happened to be in Chiang Mai as well. We met them way back in Vientiane, Laos. We all met at a reggae bar called “The Rooftop Bar” and then ventured out to the big outdoor market and stuffed our bellies with Indian curry. It was so freakin’ delicious! Once dinner was finished, they all decided they wanted to do a little shopping. Me and the word “shopping” don’t go well together so I opted out and went back to my hostel. There I bumped into one of the British guys in the lobby and he told me everyone from our room will be playing drinking games and cards downstairs soon. Count me in!
It was a fun night that included weird British versions of card games I normally play at home, bar hopping, and horrible belts of karaoke. At one point, all of the Brits decided everyone should sing a song together and I would have joined them if I had recognized the song. So instead I decided I would just take photos!
After a few hours, once we all returned to the hostel, it became a war between the ten British backpackers (including Lucy) vs the sole American (me). Nothing serious, but just some serious poking fun at each others countries. I was vastly outnumbered and could have used some back up!
“Dan, why are American’s so fat?”
“Why don’t Americans ever travel?”
“Why do you all NEED to own a gun!?”
“Why are Americans so corny?”
“American football is a woman’s sport. Rugby is a mans sport.”
I laughed at some of these questions and comments because they were just bonkers! It turned from stereotypes to claiming which country, America or England, produced the greatest celebrities and musicians. Well, l I argued that America had way more talent come out of it, obviously, but the Brits argued that more quality has come out of England. I definitely could have used support from other Americans, as I was completely overpowered! We call it “Mickey D’s”, they call it “Mackey D’s”. Weird right? Our Sprite is their Lemonade. Their biscuits are our cookies. They have no idea what a “s’more” is because graham crackers don’t exist in England! Their pancakes are our crepes. Jumpers are sweaters or hoodies. It’s always an interesting topic and I appreciate the differences…even if it results in a little friendly bashing.
The next day was a great one. It was the highly anticipated arrival of Tom and Sophie! In case you forgot, they are two extremely lovable volunteers we met while in Vietnam. We all planned on meeting up here in Chiang Mai and having a reunion. Since we left them in Vietnam, they’ve traveled to Cambodia, the south of Thailand, and Myanmar! They looked mighty tanned when we saw them and were keen to hear their stories since we last spoke in person. They were a bit “templed out” though because they’ve been to the best of the best in Southeast Asia and weren’t interested in seeing anymore!
Lucy and I moved dorms so we could share space with Sophie and Tom. There wasn’t enough room in our original dorm filled with the British folk. We moved just one floor below though. The British backpackers in our original dorm all decided that we go to the mall nearby for a food festival, where Sophie and Tom happily joined us!
Thanks to the wise suggestion of two English lads by the name of Mike and Shiv, we went to a food tasting in the mall and loaded up on free samples of Thai foods. Afterwards, a few of us went to the cinema and saw “Monsters University”. So, before the movie started, but after the previews, everyone stood up to sing Thailand’s national anthem. I didn’t expect it. I stood up and looked around and thought to myself “Yeah, this is happening.” It’s custom to sing the anthem before the start of every theatrical movie. And just like in many movie theaters at home, I got so comfortable that I ended falling asleep right in the beginning of the film. A bad habit of mine! Once the movie was over, we went back to the hostel and relaxed for the rest of the night. Lucy, Tom, Sophie, and I went back to the night market however to get some food and see what was out there.
The next day, Sophie and Tom had an elephant excursion booked through a different company than the one Lucy and I took. This also meant that this would be the last time they would see Lucy for a while as she was leaving off to Chiang Rai today too. Yup, my traveling partner since the beginning of Vietnam and through Laos and part of Thailand was going off on her own to pursue opportunities volunteering teaching English in another area of Thailand. She got the idea from Megan, who we met earlier in Laos, and decided it was a smart decision. It was free and easier on her budget. This is much earlier than she and I originally planned to split up but this was probably the best thing for both of us, because over the course of traveling together, we had interests of doing different things. However, this wouldn’t be the last time I would see Lucy. We will probably cross paths somewhere else in Thailand a few times, so it wasn’t too sad. Sophie and Tom woke Lucy up before they set off to the elephant farm and gave a quick goodbye. They all live in England so they can easily see each other later. Jealous.
Lucy and I went to get one more meal before she set off to the bus station. Afterwards, she packed up her belongings and we went to fetch a tuk-tuk for her outside of the hostel. One for a cheap price at least!
Since I met Lucy in South Africa over a year ago, she has definitely grown into a much stronger, much more independent person. I felt fine leaving her on her own, knowing she could handle herself and also because she would be with Megan for a while and they could look after each other. I let her know that if she gets into any trouble abroad to let me know!
Later on, Tom and Sophie came back from their elephant trip and were ecstatic about the experience they just had. I had to check out their photos!
That same night, I hung out a bit with Sophie and Tom and walked around Chiang Mai for a bit, grabbing ice cream, smoothies, and burgers along the way! The next day, would be their last day as well as mine. They would be taking a train back to Bangkok where they would be celebrating Sophie’s birthday! Just like before in Vietnam, I had to say goodbye to them again, and it was still as depressing as the first.
I left an hour or two before they did. Where was I going? Well, initially I was going to head to Bangkok and start from there, but over the course of the last few weeks, I have heard from many backpackers that I MUST go to Pai while I am in northern Thailand. I’ve heard nothing but great things about Pai, where even some backpackers claiming it to be their favorite place in Thailand. Such a bold statement! What’s so great about Pai? it’s a small town with not much to do. I’m already in northern Thailand, so I might as well go! I debated for days but literally made the decision the day before I left. Now on my own.
It turned out to be one of the best last-minute decisions I have ever made.