Thailand Day 57: Gringo Loco

At seven in the morning we were brought to a hostel in Chiang Mai where they pitched us on some tour packages and deals at their hostel. Everything might have been true and to the letter but out of habit I can’t trust them. I was about to join the two French guys at their hostel but the one who got into the confrontation with the Thai started to worry me as he appeared quite skittish and overly paranoid as time pressed on. Traveling with anyone for more than a few days time would be difficult for me to accept. They need to be calm under pressure, adaptable to varying situations, and be independent, no one wants a clingy travel partner/buddy. I left the hostel in search of somewhere to stay and found the task to be more difficult than first thought. The maps deceived me into thinking it was a manageable walk; too much time getting lost. Eventually I found a hostel that offered dorm rooms for $5 per night which is incredible yet surprising since Chiang Mai is the second biggest city in Thailand so who knows how cheap the rest of SE Asia will be. I went into the city to attempt to pick up a ride to Doi Suthep which is a temple on the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai city. Nearby I took a taxi up to Doi Suthep which is about 16 km away. This taxi is not the type of taxi you would see in New York City or any big city in America or Europe but rather a red pickup truck that has added two benches and a roof in which tourists and locals may be stuffed in the back for a ride. Although stuffed with mainly many Spanish speakers (go figure) it only cost me 50 baht one way when ten people manage to squeeze themselves together Mexican-US border crossing style. Clearly I did not know any words spoken amongst them but I still asked if I could join them since I was alone. Three of them were Spanish and the other was Chilean. Only the Chilean named Ignazio and a Spanish girl spoke some English so it was an interesting dynamic. The temple sits at the top of a long stretch of stairs lined by dragon-like bodies as the railings. The temple was beautifully ornate with golden leaf covering but it seemed overly touristy and disingenuous compared to the temples within the city limits that may not have the same fan fare but was more real to what I picture as a place of worship. Sadly, the view from the top was not what I had expected with a thick fog or rather smog resting over the city and its potential beauty. On the way down we were stopped by police who were clearing a path for the princess of Thailand to arrive. After a long while we got to see the royal herself, although not as young and beautiful as I had expected. I spoke to the two English speakers and used them as well as translators to communicate with the other Spanish speakers. Sometimes I would have to repeat myself or use simpler English or sign language to communicate but either way we bonded and had an understanding of each other. Back in the city, we went to eat at a restaurant and I ordered a soup for myself. It was delicious with a very flavorful broth but I wanted some more spice as I have grown accustomed to the heat of Thai food. Unfortunately, I put it in more chilis than I could handle but I still finished the meal, heartburn or not. Apparently the Spanish man Juan was taken by my craziness and named me Gringo Loco for my lunacy to eat something so fiery. As we spent more time together, the two limited English speakers warmed up to me and attempted their best English and even tried to teach me a little Spanish through repeating words and using gestures. The Spaniard Juan and I had a joking man crush with each other, winking and just being silly. We all got drinks from the 7/11 and headed to the Chiang Mai festival which is apparently quite popular but has no real live flowers. The crowd was thick and filled with artificial flower displays and a lit stage holding a beauty of various internationals but mostly stunningly Thai women. We joked and bonded and I started several U-S-A amongst our group for the American women representing the States in the pageant. I’ve noticed the Spanish are a very physical people and what I am mean by that is they show affection and friendship through touch; they are not so obsessed with their own personal space. With them I relearned the way of greeting and saying goodbye amongst people of Spanish origin, similar to Italians, in which the kiss from left cheek to right cheek. The Chilean, by far the best English speaker in the group, and I became quick friends, so we booked a trekking tour at his hostel that would leave tomorrow morning for a two day journey through the woods that promised elephant riding, waterfalls, and sleeping at a hill village outside civilization. Eventually I had to call it a night since I had three or four hours of sleep the night before and that is probably putting it generously.

One last observation so far from my time here in Thailand: not many Thais exercise whether by cycling, running, or simply going for a stroll along the streets. My theory can be explained by the fact that few Thais have the luxury of time for such a pursuit. When many are so poor, they need to spend as much time working at their restaurant or stall or whatever tourist-driven pursuit they have chosen to make a living. Giving up an hour or so to run to run, lift, or play a sport would be one less hour used towards making enough money for themselves and their family to live off of.

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