I spent the week leading up to New Years exploring and playing tourist in Chang Mai. I took a full day cooking class which brought me to a market in suburbia and a farm in the country. I ate, learned, napped, and cooked some more. I booked a white water rafting trip and enjoyed the cheap natural thrills of rushing water. I wondered by bike through alleyways, gazed at the shrines of half a dozen temples, got lost and drank coffee. I stayed at a very social guest house and made lots of fast friends to share the holiday with. We danced, lit off paper lanterns, hugged, celebrated, consumed local rum until early in the morning. We relieved New Year hang overs on comfortable cushions and in soothing cafes. I was mesmerized by Sunday walking street, a market of beautiful hand made things with every purpose and style that went on for dozens of city blocks. Chang Mai is a young, student centered, creative town. There is beauty and a laid back atmosphere around every corner. It is mesmerizing, easy to manage, and easy to be captured by. After a week I dragged myself away and sought refuge in mountainous Chang Doa.
Chang Doa is a little visited mountain town attracting bird watchers and cyclist. I needed to return to nature and step out of the twenty something backpacker scene after Chang Mai. I spent my first afternoon climbing to a mountainside monastery which offered me time to sit and breath the cool clean air. I wondered down and discovered The Nest, a French fusion restaurant in the jungle and 6 foodies to shared a meal with. They were expats making a living writing and web developing in Chang Mai. I ate perfectly cooked duck, beet soup, and fresh bread. The female Thai Chef went to culinary school in the UK and runs the resort with her British husband. Beautiful conversation and a gift of intellectual curiosity found in an unexpected place. My second day was spent reading, exploring a large cave by gas pressure lanterns and eating loads of barbecued chicken with sticky rice.
The next days I traveled to Chang Rai. First by local bus to Thaton and then a three hour long tail ride down the Mekong. I met some fellow backpackers to find a guesthouse and a meal. Chang Rai is just as low key as Chang Mai but smaller with more ethnic diversity. Lots of Chinese influences here. I enjoyed regrouping in coffee shops and spending some time writing and reading. I felt at ease, happy, and experienced moments of clarity in Chang Rai. On my last day in town I reconnected with Barbara, who I planned to travel to Loas with, and randomly ran into two friends from Chang Rai New Years. We had an excellent night out. I tip handed to "the Dutch Boys" brought us to a beautiful riverside restaurant off the tourist beat. We shared roasted cashew nuts with chile and lime, a mysterious and delicious shrimp salad, young coconut in oyster sauce, mourningly greens, and squid steaming over fire on the table dosed in lemon, chilie, basil, and so much more goodness. We followed dinner with bottles of rum at a funky bar near the city center called TeePee. We enjoyed solid, old school rock and roll videos playing on mismatched mounted tv screens. The bar is covered in the owners collection of odd objects.... Guitars, wigs, rhythm instruments, glowing sculls, cages, a beer bottle suspended platform, two living bunnys occupying the second floor.. We had a blast!