Chiang Mai, Thailand has to be one of my favourite places in the whole world. I’m not sure if you do this but when I travel I always try to glean the “feel” of the place. It’s a very personal thing to do because attempting to pinpoint something so diffuse and contradictory like emotions definitely involves work. I believe it’s well worth the effort though, because this form of memory will stay with you long after you have boarded the flight and made your way to the next destination. Each of my favourite places (Chiang Mai, Budapest, Rangoon, London, Toronto) all have their nuances but when I strip it down they all offer a feeling of love. The love affair I have with Toronto (content, calm, friendship love) is very different from the one I have with Rangoon (longing, tear at your heart, long-distance love) but they both make me want to be there when I am not. So, the love I have for Chiang Mai is a mix of comfortable friendship and passionate annoyance. I will discuss some of the reasons why I love Chiang Mai so much and then will end with the petty stuff that makes me never want to return again.
I love Chiang Mai for its raw beauty that hasn’t been sterilized and cleaned up yet. Many of the residents are polite, friendly and accommodating; there isn’t a sense of pushiness or having to always be in a hurry. I love the used book stores near Tha Phae Gate, especially “Backstreet books” whose owner is an older Irish gentleman with great taste. He will actually point out when you are “reading rubbish”. I will always want to be sitting at Pun Pun restaurant that offers the most amazing organic vegetarian dishes. Please don’t ask me which items on the menu are the best to order because I always ordered the same combination each visit: lime juice or ginger tea, muslim salad (lettuce with cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs and tofu drenched in peanut sauce), and their roti bread. I would seriously fly back just to be able to taste their peanut sauce with flakes of real coconut and the thin salty/sweet roti bread. I love Khun Churn vegetarian restaurant and their lunch-time buffets of carefully prepared curries and salads! I don’t really care, I will admit that I love the Starbucks on Nimman that offered me great service with a smile (after awhile I didn’t even have to order my chai-tea with warmed low-fat milk because they had already rung it in), air-conditioning, relaxing music and peace.
So, like any relationship with an ounce of depth, lets keep it real and discuss why I would think twice before returning. Till I can rent a teeny tiny car to drive around in, I will have to walk in a city that is not walkable. Every sidewalk has opportunities to fall or trip, the parks can make you fall on your face during rainy season and do not even get me started on territorial street dogs. When I lived there I was terrorized by a small red-furred dog with a pointy face. Imagine a slightly bigger pomeranian that became so vocal and angry at you for just for walking on the other side of the street. She would literally cross the street to yell at me. It’s a shame because she was actually kind of cute. If I could adopt a dog I would probably adopt one that looks like her. What does that say about me that I love someone who made my life so hellish? I would literally take the long way home to avoid her pointy face. Also, if you can’t ride a motor-bike, your day can become a chain of tedious conversations in broken-Thai bargaining for a fare with the taxi-drivers.
In spite of all the inconveniences, living in Chiang Mai gave me the opportunity to meet some incredible and fascinating people. I really do miss them, especially my roommates. Anyways, like any love affair, the good usually out weighs the bad and I have a feeling that Chiang Mai will always have a hold on me.