I am in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, and somehow I’m still not dead even though in Bangkok I ate at a rat-infested streetfood place at the train station.
I’m flying solo again. Callie and Hartley left Cat Ba to be swindled in Laos (but also to have many funz). My dear son Keegan left for a 40-hour bus journey to Ho Chi Minh City. Tom and I left for a couple of days in BRILLIANT Hanoi before my flight back to Bangkok and his trip north to Sapa.
I’d planned to stay in BKK for a few days before coming north to Chiang Mai – I was going to chill, upload photos, catch up on life admin and studying. I went to the train station on Tuesday afternoon to pre-book my ticket and discovered that all the trains were full because of Songkran, except for one leaving that night. Booked it. Done. An emergency 14-hour journey in a 4-berth sleeper coach. Utter joy (YOU KNOW HOW I LOVE TRAIN TRAVEL OUT HERE!). The beds were comfortably firm. I woke a few times in the night only to be rocked back to sleep by the movement of the train, the clacking of the tracks. In the morning I had breakfast of glutinous rice soup – like rice pudding only different, salty, peppery, and with “pork” balls floating around, and watched the sun rise over mountains.
Right now I’m staying in a dorm room with 5 others for 100 baht (£2.50) a night, no towels, no hot water, no in-room wifi, no toilet paper, no air-con. It’s everything you need. The hostel has a huge covered balcony area on the second floor with bamboo mats, benches, cushions. I’m there right now, at almost 11am, trying to memorise English verb tenses and thinking about getting some breakfast, and about heading out into the streets to cool down. It’s too hot for life here. People are melting in the streets, leaving nothing behind but fanny packs and globules of person-melt. Like candle wax or glutinous rice soup. Bit gross. People who haven’t melted yet are in the process: features sliding down their faces, dripping off their chins. Everything is sticky. Luckily it’s Songkran, Thai New Year, and the city is engaged in a gigantic water fight that takes over the daylight hours. Everyone has water guns or buckets – often both – and nobody is shy about using them. Families are on the streets outside their houses or shops with water butts and hoses, soaking anyone that comes within range; they travel around the city in trucks sloshing water over everyone they drive past; tourists form gangs outside their favourite bars and wage war in the sun with the music up loud and the beer flowing. It’s all friendly. Everyone’s grinning, thrilled to bits to have a stranger run up behind them and dump buckets of ice water over their heads. It’s nearing 40 degrees so it’s exactly what you want to cool down. The whole thing’ s crazy-fun, frantic, phallic and an excuse to make masses of goodbad puns and act like a kid for extended periods of time.
At nights people gather on the balcony to dry off and drink, chat, chill. Sometimes people play guitar, uke, sing. And they’re not all the shit, pretentious types either. Makes me want to buy a uke and learn how to play it – if there’s one thing that travelling has taught me it’s that I don’t have enough life skills to bring to the table. You go for food en mass. My favourite places are these ace little street food areas by the main road, a collection of stalls run by different people and each serving different dishes, plastic chairs and tables all set up, mystery water ready to drink if you dare. It’s where the Thais go to eat, and though sometimes you get food different to what you thought you’d ordered, and the hygiene standards are lax as fuck, it’s the best kind of experience. And the food is DELICIOUS and cheap. Last night I had crispy noodle soup – really thick, glutinous broth with huge slices of pork and the crispy noodles that exist in all your best food-related dreams. It cost 30 baht, less than a pound.
I’m bloody loving it out here. Different places and cultures and FOODS and people all the bloody time. The more you travel the more you discover that you want to do. I HAVE to go to Myanmar. I have to see Laos, especially the underground city. I’d love to go back to Vietnam and check out the off-the-beaten-track places and the stuff I missed first time around. I want to go to the Cambodian island that Hartley and Callie worked on because it looks like paradise, and I guess I could cope with seeing some pristine Thai islands as well. And that’s just the places right next door. China is a must now – it sounds like a fucking hard slog but hard is GOOD, right? It pushes your boundaries, tests you. Also Japan, South Korea, Nepal. Indonesia. I want to see (my old school chum) Penny in Malaysia. But I want to go to stranger places, too; places not everybody would go to: what’s in Turkmenistan? Can you go through Central Asia then the middle East and down through the African continent overland? Without facing death, rape or torture? That’d be pretty fuckin’ ace, right?
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about travelling and studying and not as much tourism as you’d hope in Chiang Mai. Gotta prioritise, though. Can’t fuck up this course. I did go to a Wat having a celebration, and played out during Songkran, and had some damn good nights out with some good human beings. Tonight we’ll go see some Muy Thai fights and I’ll do a cookery course in the next few days, and me and a girl in my dorm are going to trek it up to a hill temple just outside of town even though I haven’t exercised in a month and a half and I’ll probably die. I met someone who went out with a girl who played roller derby and was thrilled to be able to chat derby for a while to someone who already had an interest. I mostly want to meet another roller girl and see if I can set up a team, or at the very least get some kind of roller skating back in my life. I can’t cope with all this non-skating that’s going on. Never thought I’d miss being forced to do more push-ups than my body can take, but apparently I do. Maybe I’ll take up Muy Thai instead and learn how to become aggressive – grrrrrrrrr! – and add that to my roller derby repertoire when I eventually find some people to play with/for.
I’m rambling. Excuse me. Blame the OBNOXIOUS heat, and the fact that I’m procrastinating. OK. Back to it. A couple of hours of study and then back out into Songkranland for the final day of the celebration. Get in.