After departing Singapore, the flight to Bangkok’s smaller Don Muang airport was rather uneventful. I sailed through customs, exchanged money while waiting for my bag, and then shuffled over to the taxi queue with my belongings. The first taxi wanted to negotiate a price, rather than use the meter. The first—and best—advice I’ve ever received about Thailand (and Bangkok, in particular) is to always use the meter. You don’t know what the price should be, as a newcomer, so trust the meter, not your bargaining skills.
I got in the 2nd cab, we started driving, and he informed me that I had to pay for the tolls on the highway to the downtown area. No worries. Then, he started talking about prices. “No price. Only meter.” We went a few rounds on this theme, until I finally said, “I pay meter. Only meter. Pay meter number.” After guiding him to my hostel, the meter read 210 Baht—about $6. At this point, he starts saying something about 1,000 Baht. Yeah, right!
After the disaster with my bags being held hostage in Nicaragua, I’ve learned to always have my stuff with me inside the taxi, NEVER in the trunk or where I can’t reach them. I grabbed my stuff, gave him 210 Baht, and got out. He stayed outside yelling, so I figured that I’d grab the employee to help translate. WRONG. She spoke about as much English as I speak Thai (hello, goodbye, and thank you), so it wasn’t much help. I drew some pictures of a taxi, a meter, an airplane, and then 210 / 1,000. She came outside to help, but them talking in Thai didn’t help me explain my side at all. Eventually, I gave the guy a 20 Baht tip/go away fee, felt that was sufficient, and went inside the hostel. I’d checked in during the explanation, and I just went to my room and decided the matter was closed.
I was only here for a night, anyway, and I wanted to get some sleep before blitzing the city again.
The next morning, I checked out, stashed my bags for the day, and bought my ticket for the night train to Chiang Mai. My goal was to just walk around and soak up some of the less-touristy parts of the city.
I also learned something really important about Bangkok & Thailand: how to quickly spot vegetarian food offerings. This yellow flag is my new friend. I also learned that “jai” means vegetarian food/vegetarian people. Solid.
I walked through Little India and part of Chinatown during the day. Nothing was outstanding or overly-picturesque, but I liked Little India a lot. It has a cool feeling to it, with the mix of multiple cultures going on. I ate at the vegan food stalls I’d eaten at last time passing through Bangkok; I’m pretty sure they remembered me, because I got a double serving of smiles and hellos upon arrival.
After working up a pretty good sweat walking the city all day, I grabbed my bags from the hostel and went to the train station for the sleeper train to Chiang Mai. I was seated by 2 Portuguese people, and I thought I’d practice my Portuguese, but they were from the far north, and their accent was hard for me to understand. They also said that they have a hard time understanding Brazilian Portuguese, and we wound up switching to English haha.
Upon arriving in Chiang Mai before 8am, I took a tuk-tuk to my hostel, assuming I’d have to just drop my bags and come back later to check in. Luckily, the bed I was assigned had already been vacated, so I waited for them to change the sheets, and I was able to take a nap for a bit. That’s a rarity, when arriving this early.
These signs were very interesting at the hostel…
After showering and formulating a plan for the day, I was really hungry and decided to investigate the Ming Kwan vegetarian restaurant I’d heard about. This was a very good decision. You get a GIANT plate of rice and choose 2 of the 10 entrees for your plate. All of this costs 30 Baht—about 85 cents. This place became a staple of my time in Chiang Mai.
From here, I walked around the city for the afternoon, seeing what it had to offer.
I saw a big temple and decided to check it out. I was ready to pay the 50 cents admission fee, until I saw the sign for “appropriate attire” in the temple and found it really sexist. I decided to put my money away, put my shoes back on, and leave. This, for me, is one of the biggest problems with religion: the constant need to control women’s bodies, appearances, and autonomy. Men were entering in flip-flops, tank tops, and swim shorts. Women had a giant list of what they could and could not wear. Call me when you believe in equality.
I continued walking aimlessly around the city and wound up back at the hostel around dinner time. I’d received a flier for some Muay Thai fights that night, on my arrival at the train station, and I wanted to buy a ticket for it. The hostel gave me what turned out to be bad directions on how to get there, sold me the ticket, and I went to Ming Kwan for dinner.
This is not the spot for dinner.
It’s the same food left over from what they’ve made at lunch, and it’s been sitting there all afternoon. I question the sanitation factor on that.
From here, I walked to where the hostel had told me to look for the location of the fights, found out that was completely inaccurate, and had to take a tuk-tuk back the direction I’d come from, in order to get there for the start.
Some interesting observations about the non-fight parts of the evening: 1. Everyone around me was from Spain. They didn’t know each other, but they were all Spanish. I practiced my flowering Spanish abilities, and they loved it. 2. VIP seats are near the ring and cost about $17. I paid for general admission at $10. Behind this, the locals had standing room entry, which just this bar to lean against—no chairs.
The fights were really interesting. It started with some juniors fights, including what looked like 10 year-old boys (one of whom knocked out the other one, and I felt bad for him). After a “special fight” with 10 guys of various sizes blindfolded and trying to find/fight each other, the real action was the last 2 fights. The last guys’ fight was REALLY good. People were really getting into it, betting money, screaming. It was fun.
The last fight was a girl from Italy, who had come to Thailand to improve her skills, fighting a local. (Un)surprisingly, the foreigners were all rooting for the Italian girl, and the locals for the Thai girl. The girls in other fights had all worn t-shirts and made sure to remain covered during the fights. The Italian girl wore what she found comfortable: just a sports bra and shorts. She was also heavily tattooed. The cultural contrasts were huge.
The locals, of course, thought, “What could a foreigner know about Muay Thai?” The Italian girl beat the SNOT out of that Thai girl. Unbelievably so. The highlight, of course, was that they played “The Final Countdown” before the fight and “We Will Rock You” before the last round. Amazing.
Since I knew the way at this point, I easily walked back to the hostel, which was much faster than the bad directions I’d received for getting there.
The next day, I walked around the city again, rather aimlessly. I had wanted to go the Botanical Gardens, outside the city, but I couldn’t find anyone else interested in going, and I didn’t feel like going alone and paying for the taxi alone. I also tried to avoid the hostel, because some REALLY annoying guys had checked into my room. They checked in at 9am, stood in the room arguing about the price with the employee, and then decided to stay. They unpacked, showered, put on a LOT of cologne, and then decided to sleep. At this point, I was obviously wide-awake and decided to get up, and they had the audacity to ask me to be quiet, since they were going to sleep now. Nope. I was as loud as possible.
Things I saw: a really funny post office sign that begs for some jokes about sending phrases, 80 cents for a Big Gulp at 7-11, some signs, and cool statues outside of a temple.
Of course, I had lunch at Ming Kwan again, and I discovered a place called The Juicery that had vegan ice cream for $1, then I wound up joining some people from the hostel for dinner at the Best Kitchen (it wasn’t).
My last day in Chiang Mai was like a repeat of the day before. Ming Kwan, wander aimlessly, take pictures of stuff that amused me, ice cream at The Juicery, etc. Dinner again at the (not-)Best Kitchen.
At 6pm, I got picked up for the night bus down to Bangkok. Taking the bus to save a little money against the train was a huge mistake. I barely got any sleep, there was a group of Italians playing cards all night, a French family with a crying toddler, and the guy next to me kept elbowing me accidentally. Plus, sleeping in a reclining seat vs. a bed is incomparable. Lesson learned: actual sleep is worth money.
Chiang Mai had a nice vibe, and I enjoyed it. It wasn’t mind-blowing, but it was a good few days, and I had some very Thai experiences while eating Pad Thai at a Muay Thai fight.
Next up: Bangkok again for 2 days.
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