The trip to Chiang Mai was supposed to take just over four hours but it somehow took closer to seven. You never quite know what to expect when you book longer distance land transport, especially when you are crossing a border. Our path went like this : Tuk-tuk to Lao immigration post. Walk through immigration, clear customs. Loaded into mini van. Driven to Thailand immigration. Walk through immigration, clear customs. Loaded into different mini van. Driven through the town to a backpacker guesthouse at the end of a dusty road. Instructed by driver to grab baggage and walk through guesthouse to the other side. Walk through guesthouse lugging backpacks, pass the pool, follow the fingerpointing of guesthouse staff, eventually find the way out and discover yet another mini-van. Load into minvan, drive for hours, get dropped off in Chiang Mai at unknown guesthouse in the old city. Get directions from guesthouse lady, walk an easy ten minutes to our lovely hotel. Collapse on bed in air conditioned room for a few moments to catch breath. Simple!
After freshening up, we went out to explore this brand new city in this brand new country. Chiang Mai is the largest city in the north of Thailand and the centre for a lot of tourist activities such as elephant trekking, zip lining, cooking schools, meditation retreats, jungle trekking and so on. The currency in Thailand is called the Baht and each of the bills has a portrait of the king who, if you use your imagination a little bit, looks very much like my father, so every time we pull out cash I almost feel like dad is here with us!
We head out for a big walk, and find that there is definitely a seedier element to this town than we are used to seeing in Laos. There are many, many bars, and in those bars are some interesting characters – lady boys, prostitutes, old men holding hands with young girls, and other disturbing sights we’re not quite ready to explain to the kids yet….but we do because they are asking, at least in general terms. We’ve never been much for sheltering our kids from life. Throughout this trip they are going to see a few things that are maybe not too age-appropriate, at least by our squeaky-clean Canadian standards, but so be it. They can handle it and so can we.
We ran into some backpackers we met on the slow boat and joined them for a couple drinks then wandered around the gigantic night market for a couple hours, which had a great mix of knock-off goods as well as handicrafts.
Stella had two great moments today. When we were waiting in line at the border she looked up at the sign that “Foreign Passports”, thought a bit, then turned to us and said, “If you take the ‘P’ out of Passports, what do you get?” Magnus seized the opportunity to blurt out, “Assports!” When we were in Chiang Mai the kids convinced us to take them to McDonalds, and we did as there didn’t seem to be any of them in Laos and two weeks of noodles and rice were starting to wear them down. So Ana and the kids at there, and later on I grabbed a local dish from a roadside vendor. As I was eating with Stella beside me, she looked up and said, “Daddy, I feel bad about eating at McDonalds.”
“Why? What’s wrong with that?” I asked her.
“I don’t want to be a tourist. I want to be a good backpacker and eat local food,” she answered.